Maya Angelou Dead: Oprah, Obama, Beyonce Among Those Paying Tribute

Maya Angelou, left, with Oprah Winfrey
Maya Angelou, left, with Oprah Winfrey
 Courtesy of OWN

As news broke that author Maya Angelou -- who rose from poverty, surrounded by segregation and violence, to become a force on the stage, the screen and the printed page -- died Wednesday morning at 86, Hollywood paid tribute via social media updates.

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Oprah Winfrey, who counted Angelou as a mentor and a friend, released a statement Wednesday morning: “I've been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my 20s. She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her. She won three Grammys, spoke six languages and was the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration. But what stands out to me most about Maya Angelou is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace. I loved her and I know she loved me. I will profoundly miss her. She will always be the rainbow in my clouds.”

Winfrey's longtime friend Gayle King, who also knew Angelou personally, commented on the celebrated poet's death on the West Coast edition of CBS This Morning, which was airing as the news broke. King explained that she'd just gotten off the phone with Oprah and had called people close to Angelou to confirm that she had died. She also recalled a recent conversation she had with the author.

"When you sit in her presence, it really is like wisdom just flows out of her," King said. "She sent me, just last week … leather-bound books of all of her works … that she wanted me to have. And I called her, of course, to thank her … and she used to say that she watches the show. She watched this show every morning, and she was pointing out things that she liked and things that she didn't like, which is always nice … [and] which is always the way she was. She was always very true to herself about things that meant a lot to her, and I'm really grateful that I got to spend any time with her."

In response to a question from co-host Norah O'Donnell about where Angelou got her strength, King said, "From the time she was a little girl, she was always able to overcome adversity. And right until the time she died, she was always very opinionated, Norah, nothing, nothing scared her and I am so blessed that I got to spend the time and got to see her not so long ago … I don't even know how to describe how I feel at this moment, even though I knew it was coming, it's hard to hear, very hard to hear."

Mary J. Blige, Forest WhitakerKelly Rowland, J.K. Rowling and Ryan Seacrest took to Twitter to share some of the late poet's many memorable quotes, while Dule Hill and Piers Morgan posted the news. Singer Darius Rucker also shared his reflections ("Heaven has another wonderful angel") as did America Ferrera ("She gave me courage to love myself and others") and Pharrell Williams ("Her light will be sorely missed"). Beyonce captioned on Instagram, "Rest in peace phenomenal woman."

The Directors Guild of America also issued a statement on Wednesday in remembrance, with president Paris Barclay writing: "Today we mourn the loss of a tremendous storyteller, but we rejoice in the knowledge that her stories and images will comfort and inspire us forever.

"Dr. Angelou first joined the DGA in 1975, becoming one of the first African American female members of the DGA. Never one to shy away from new experiences, she went on to make her feature directing debut at the age of 70. The DGA had the great pleasure of honoring Dr. Angelou in 2004 at our African American Steering Committee’s 'Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou: Master Storyteller.'

"On a personal note, one of my earliest professional directing jobs was helming an adaptation of one of her short stories; her provocative words and passionate voice continue to echo in my head. We are proud to count her among our ranks," said Barclay.

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Still, among those lightening up the mood online was radio host Charlamagne Tha God (aka Lenard McKelvey), who noted that the endlessly quotable Angelou has changed his life in a specific way: "All these chicks going to be googling Maya Angelou quotes all day and realizing those deep words I text them in the AM aren't mine."

President Barack Obama also weighed in, releasing the following statement on Angelou's death: "When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that 'No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.' Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time -- a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things -- an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller -- and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking -- but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya. Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, 'flung up to heaven' -- and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring."

Former president Bill Clinton, for whom Angelou composed an original poem on the occasion of his 1993 inauguration, said: "With Maya Angelou’s passing, America has lost a national treasure; and Hillary and I, a beloved friend. The poems and stories she wrote and read to us in her commanding voice were gifts of wisdom and wit, courage and grace. I will always be grateful for her electrifying reading of 'On the Pulse of Morning' at my first inaugural, and even more for all the years of friendship that followed. Now she sings the songs the Creator gave to her when the river 'and the tree and the stone were one.' Our deepest sympathies are with [Angelou's son] Guy [Johnson] and his family.

Quincy Jones, meanwhile, commented: “I am so deeply saddened about the loss of my dear friend, colleague and sister of 46 years, Maya Angelou. From collaborating on two songs on my soundtrack for For Love of Ivy in 1968 to delivering her poem 'On the Pulse of Morning' during the Clinton inaugural in 1992, working with Maya always brought joy and love. As an author and poet, Maya Angelou’s ability to channel God’s voice and express the feelings deep within all of humanity will never be matched by another. She gave us words when we could find none, and helped us to see clearly when the light was dimmest. Maya would always teasingly say to me, 'Darling, let’s have ‘lurnch,’ and I will always be ready. I will miss her deeply, but I know her presence will always be with us."

Tyler Perry, who worked with Angelou when she appeared in his 2006 film Madea's Family Reunion, said: "There have only been a handful of people in my life who have moved me, inspired me, encouraged me and help mold the man I am today. One of those people would be Dr. Maya Angelou, she was a woman I called friend. Her words and her spirit are too powerful to leave this earth with her passing. Her legacy and poems will take wings forever, landing at the foundation of anything that betters humanity. Dr. Maya Angelou will live on in all of us who called her a phenomenal woman phenomenally. She is loved and will be missed."

Read what else Hollywood is saying about Angelou's death:

 
 
 
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Hilary Lewis contributed to this report.

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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