Cicely Tyson Had a Simple Process To Decide Whether or Not To Take a Role

Cicely Tyson was a legendary actor with a career that spanned seven decades. Her death has led people to look to her for guidance and as an example of how to live for today while keeping in mind the youth of tomorrow. She had several recognizable roles throughout her career which earned her Emmy Awards and other accolades.

Cicely Tyson photographed in 1976 in New York City
Cicely Tyson photographed in 1976 in New York City | Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Cicely Tyson was a Hollywood icon

At 96 years old, Tyson lived through many different historical eras in the United States, from the peak of Jim Crow through the civil rights movement up until the COVID-19 pandemic. Along the way, she broke down doors for Black women in entertainment and paved the way for several successful actors today.

In addition to her career, Tyson was known for her high-profile marriage to jazz icon Miles Davis in the 1980s. Even after the end of their marriage, Tyson often publicly focused on the positive parts of their relationship in interviews.

Cicely Tyson in 2020
Cicely Tyson in 2020 | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images for Discovery, Inc.

Cicely Tyson had some iconic roles

Throughout her career, Tyson played many beloved characters and received praise for how she portrayed them.

Tyson’s first big role was in the short-lived CBS series East Side/West Side in 1963 where she played the secretary of a social worker. It tackled many important issues and was unique in that Tyson was the only Black regular cast member on a TV show at the time.

Tyson’s breakout role came in the 1972 film Sounder, which earned her nominations for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Two years later, she won two Emmy Awards for her role in the TV movie The Autobiography of Jane Pittman where she played a 110-year-old enslaved woman.

Tyson garnered Emmy nominations in the following years for her roles in the miniseries Roots and King, the latter in which she played the late Coretta Scott King.

Later in life, she appeared in many popular films and TV shows including The Help, How to Get Away With Murder, and House of Cards.

Cicely Tyson in a scene from the CBS television program 'East Side/West Side' on May 24, 1963
Cicely Tyson in a scene from the CBS television program ‘East Side/West Side’ on May 24, 1963 | CBS via Getty Images

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Cicely Tyson was thoughtful about which roles she took

Tyson’s work has been lauded by critics for decades, and she had an undeniable and incomparable ability to embody whatever character she was playing.

In a 2014 interview with CNN‘s Don Lemon, Tyson revealed that she’s very particular about which roles she takes on. She specifically refused to play roles that portrayed Black people and women in a negative light, and relied on her gut to tell her if a role was right for her.

“I’ve for the longest time chosen my roles by reading the script over and over and over again, and one of two things happen: either my skin tingles, or my stomach churns,” Tyson said. “When my stomach churns, I know I can’t do it. When my skin tingles, I can’t wait to do it.”