Why Did Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis Divorce?

Cicely Tyson certainly had a story to tell. The actor and supermodel became known for her award-winning roles in TV and movies, and she also played quite a role in the theater scene. Her memoir, Just As I Am, covers her life and personal experiences — and it also goes over her marriage and divorce to famous jazz musician Miles Davis.

Davis and Tyson married in 1981 and divorced just a few years later. So, why did the two separate? Here’s what we know.

Cicely Tyson got to know Miles Davis when he was still married to Frances Taylor

Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis circa 1983 in New York City
Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis circa 1983 in New York City | Robin Platzer/Images/Getty Images

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In Just As I Am, Tyson discusses her first meeting with Davis. She saw him playing at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York in 1952. And by 1965, the two were building a connection even though Davis was married at the time. Tyson wrote about how Davis would frequently invite her over any time there was cooking happening in the house. And by the time Davis divorced his then-wife, Frances Taylor, in 1966, he was inviting Tyson over to spend the night.

“There was love. There was devotion. There was understanding,” Tyson wrote. “And in our embrace, there lived an enduring connection.”

Tyson’s career started to take hold after she and Davis formed a connection, though. And Davis married Betty Mabry (better known as Betty Davis) in 1968. They divorced a year later in 1969.

“He’d apparently slipped back into heavy drug use after the divorce,” Tyson wrote. “Miles began reaching out to me, leaving messages on my answering machine at all hours of the day and night.”

Tyson didn’t want to tell her family she was marrying Davis

Cicely Tyson, Miles Davis, and Robert 'Kool' Bell
Cicely Tyson, Miles Davis, and Robert ‘Kool’ Bell | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

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It seems Davis knew immediately following his divorce from his second wife that he wanted to spend his life with Tyson. “In the year after Miles and I got back together, he proposed marriage to me twice more, in his own way,” Tyson wrote in her memoir. She wasn’t in a rush to get down the aisle, though. “I thought our relationship was fine as it was,” she continued. “In my mind, we didn’t need to formalize the feelings that had been proved.”

Nevertheless, the two still got engaged. And Tyson called Bill Cosby to see if she could have a small ceremony at his place for the wedding.

“Very few people knew Miles and I were to marry,” Tyson wrote. “Even my family, including my daughter and siblings, did not know. I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to hear folks’ mouths, didn’t want anyone to distract me from what I was intent on doing.”

Why did Tyson and Davis divorce?

Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis
Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

It seems infidelity was at the heart of Tyson and Davis’ divorce. In Tyson’s memoir, she recounted how her maid spilled the news. The maid told Tyson that as soon as Tyson leaves town for projects, Davis is meeting up with another woman in the apartment building.

“Miles kept right on messing with this woman when I traveled, and the maid kept right on divulging the details,” Tyson continued. “The two had the nerve to be hooking up in my bed, on my sheets, in an apartment that my decades of toil in this business had bought and paid for.”

It seems there wasn’t just one woman, either. “There were many others — women he carried on with when he was on tour in Europe,” Tyson continued. “Word of his liaison with a young French woman of course got back to me, because with Miles, a secret never stayed that way for long.”

Finally, Tyson filed for divorce in 1988 — and it sent Miles reeling. He eventually admitted he didn’t want a divorce, but he knew they could no longer have sex, as rumors swirled of his HIV-positive status. “First, if Miles was asking for us to be together minus all physical intimacy … he must’ve believed he was infected with something lethal,” Tyson continued. After that conversation, Tyson left Davis behind — and she never saw him again. Davis died in 1991.

Despite their tumultuous past, there was still a lot of love there. “And I know this: I love Miles and he loved me,” Tyson wrote. “At age 96 I still have many questions about his life, but of that fact I am certain.”

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