"A heart unlike any other." former president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, took a moment to pay tribute and honor the late Cicely Tyson. The iconic actress died on Thursday at the age of 96. The former president posted a photo of himself, his wife and Tyson, as well as another of him awarding the actress the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"When Cicely Tyson was born, doctors predicted she wouldn’t make it three months because of a murmur in her heart. What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t know, was that Cicely had a heart unlike any other," Barack penned in a lengthy and heartfelt statement. "The kind that would not only beat for 96 more years but leave a mark on the world that few could match."
Barack continued by acknowledging Tyson's incredible work, her upbringing, and her passion to "speak her truth."
"At a time when parts for actors who looked like her weren’t easy to come by, she refused to take on roles that reduced Black women to their gender or their race. Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work," the politician noted. "But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections."
He added that with her films and shows, "She helped us see the dignity within all who made up our miraculous — and, yes, messy — American family."
"Michelle and I were honored when Cicely came to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom, knowing she was one of the many giants upon whose shoulders we stood ," he relayed. "A trailblazer whose legacy couldn’t be measured by her Emmys and Tony and Oscar alone, but by the barriers she broke and the dreams she made possible." He concluded by sending her family their thoughts and prayers.
Michelle, meanwhile, posted two photos of herself with Tyson, writing how in awe she was Tyson's "humanity."
"Just by walking into a room, she had this way of elevating everyone around her. She was the personification of beauty, grace, wisdom, and strength," she expressed. "Carrying forward a flame that not only guided her for 96 pathbreaking years but lit the way for so many of us."
Michelle shared that she will "miss her dearly," but "smile knowing how many people she inspired, just like me, to walk a little taller, speak a little more freely, and live a little bit more like God intended."
In 2016, Tyson was among a select group of 21 actors, musicians, athletes and innovators awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Obama. The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor and Tyson received hers alongside Ellen DeGeneres, Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Bruce Springsteen.
“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course of history,” Obama said at the presentation. “Cicely was never the likeliest of Hollywood stars. The daughter of immigrants from the West Indies, she was raised by a hardworking and religious mother who cleaned houses and forbade her children to attend the movies. But once she got her education and broke into the business, Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines, but to speak out."
When later asked by Variety how it felt to be complimented by the then-president, she replied, "I was so embarrassed, I was red as a beet!"
In addition to the Obamas, former president Bill Clinton also paid tribute to Cicely in a statement to ET.
"Hillary and I mourn the passing of Cicely Tyson. She brought complex characters to life with dignity and heart, and humanity and depth, always remaining true to herself. We will always treasure every encounter we ever had with her," reads the statement. "I will especially never forget when she led the ceremony welcoming me to Harlem, the neighborhood she loved and embodied so well, when I opened my office in 2001. Our thoughts and prayers to all who were inspired and empowered by her performances and extraordinary life."
Just this week, Tyson released her memoir, Just As I Am, written with collaborator Michelle Burford, sharing an intimate look back at her life, "plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside."