Viola Davis remembers mentor Cicely Tyson: ‘You gave me permission to dream’

'You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls.'

Hollywood influencers took to social media on Thursday to express their condolences following news of Cicely Tyson’s death. 

Tyson died Thursday at 96, according to her longtime manager, Larry Thompson. Earlier this week she released her memoir “Just As I Am” through HarperCollins, and Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis wrote the foreword. The two worked together on How to Get Away With Murder, and the iconic actress also served as Davis’ mentor. 

Read More: Cicely Tyson remembered ‘love of her life’ Miles Davis in last interview

“I’m devastated. My heart is just broken,” wrote Davis in an Instagram message following news of Tyson’s death. “I loved you so much!! You were everything to me! You made me feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility for us dark chocolate girls,” she added. 

Davis went on to note that Tyson gave her “permission to dream….because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself,” she wrote. 

“I’m not ready for you to be my angel yet. But…I also understand that it’s only when the last person who has a memory of you dies, that you’ll truly be dead. In that case, you will be immortal. Thank you for shifting my life. Thank you for the long talks. Thank you for loving me. Rest well,” she concluded.

Tyson played Davis’ mother Ophelia for six years on How to Get Away with Murder. Recalling the first time they met on set, Tyson said in an interview with Goldderby last summer that she left Davis “devastated” when she initially ignored her. 

“The first day on arrival, Viola was standing at the door of the studio waiting to greet me and she was all smiles. I had become so deeply embedded in the character that I just walked right by her,” Tyson explained. “She said it devastated her. She said to me later on, “Uh oh, I better get to work!”

Read More: Hollywood and more react to death of beloved actress Cicely Tyson

Tyson said her mood that day had everything to do with her occupying the headspace of her character. 

“When I start working, that’s not me, that’s that character. That’s the mother, Ophelia, and we’re not speaking. We have no relationship at that time. So when I walk into the studio, that’s who I was, Ophelia,” Tyson continued. 

“Sometime afterward she said, “You don’t know what that did to me. I cannot tell you.” Because I saw the smile on her face and I just didn’t react to it,” she said of Davis. “She hasn’t been talking to me for some time, I wasn’t talking to her, so all of the sudden I’m gonna start smiling and hugging and kissing her? No! That was not Ophelia. So I walked right in and I went to my spot on the set and played the scene like I was supposed to, I think (laughs).”

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