Shonda Rhimes, LeVar Burton, Viola Davis and More Stars Pay Tribute to "Cultural Icon" Cicely Tyson

The admired Oscar-nominated actress, who made television history while forging a sterling career out of portraying women of strength and substance, died Thursday at 96.

In the wake of Cicely Tyson's death on Thursday, Shonda Rhimes, Zendaya, Rosario Dawson and more took to social media to pay tribute to the actress who made television history while forging a sterling career out of portraying women of strength and substance.

Tyson died Thursday at 96, according to her longtime manager, Larry Thompson. Tyson died two days after her memoir Just as I Am was published. She gave her last interviews about the book, including a sit-down with Gayle King and an appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan this week.

The actress' career spanned more than six decades, with roles in multiple critically acclaimed projects such as SounderRoots and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Tyson became the first African-American to win a lead actress Emmy Award when she was recognized for her astonishing performance as a woman who ages from 23 to 110 — from the 1850s to the civil-rights era — in the 1974 CBS telefilm The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. A decade earlier, her work opposite George C. Scott on the gritty CBS drama East Side/West Side made her perhaps the first African-American actress to have a continuing role on a network series. Also among her accomplishments, Tyson has been recognized for her work in theater, feted as a style icon, and received both an honorary Academy Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tyson had just released her memoir Just As I Am through HarperCollins this week, in which she reflected on her early life, her career move from modeling to acting, and her relationship with jazz legend Miles Davis.

Shonda Rhimes shared disbelief over the news on Twitter, writing "I really need this not to be true."

Viola Davis, who worked with Tyson on How to Get Away With Murder and wrote the foreword of Tyson's memoir, wrote: "I'm devastated. My heart is just broken. 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. You gave me permission to dream....because it was only in my dreams that I could see the possibilities in myself. 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."

Former President Barack Obama, who awarded Tyson with the Medal of Freedom during his presidency, wrote, "In her extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson was one of the rare award-winning actors whose work on the screen was surpassed only by what she was able to accomplish off of it. She had a heart unlike any other—and for 96 years, she left a mark on the world that few will ever match."

Meanwhile Michelle Obama wrote, "What struck me every time I spent time with Cicely Tyson was not necessarily her star power—though that was evident enough—it was her humanity. Just by walking into a room, she had this way of elevating everyone around her."

In a tribute, Tyler Perry said emotionally shared that the news "brought me to my knees!" "She was the grandmother I never had and the wisdom tree that I could always sit under to fill my cup. My heart breaks in one beat, while celebrating her life in the next," he wrote. " She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence."

Of Tyson, Oprah Winfrey wrote, "She used her career to illuminate the humanity of Black people. The roles she played reflected her values; she never compromised. Her life so fully lived is a testimony to Greatness."

Ava DuVernay shared a touching statement on Tyson through her Instagram, writing "Your hugs I’ll remember. How your petite arms wrapped around me like mighty branches of a sunlit tree, strong and warm. Your laugh I’ll remember. How it came easily and heartily and sounded like good music. Your work I’ll remember. How your brave portrayals transformed the way the world witnessed Black women, whether they could accept what you shared or not. Your words I’ll remember. How each time I hung up the phone, I’d write them down so as not forget the precious jewels of encouragement and wisdom you’d gifted me. Your love I’ll remember. You loved me for some reason. You told me so often. I thank you for that forever and I’ll carry your love with me as I go. Bless you on your journey ahead, Your Majesty. Until we meet again."

In a tribute shared on Instagram, Angela Bassett reflected on working alongside Tyson early in her career. "Ms. Tyson, we are infinitely grateful for every day that God gave you to us. For all of us little black and brown girls who dared to dream big and bold that we, too, deserved to be seen, heard, and loved, both on the screen and off. Rest in Power, my sweet, beautiful QUEEN," she wrote.

Courtney B. Vance wrote of Tyson, "There was something unspeakably regal about Ms. #CicelyTyson. It’s something that we can’t quite put our finger on, but you knew you were in the presence of greatness whenever you encountered Ms. Tyson."

Whoopi Goldberg, also paid tribute by describing Tyson as "a tower of power, a pillar of strength, CLEAR about who she was, and how she was to be treated."

LeVar Burton paid tribute to his "first screen Mom." "Elegance, warmth, beauty, wisdom, style and abundant grace. She was as regal as they come. An artist of the highest order, I will love her forever," he wrote. 

Tyson's godson Lenny Kravitz shared a lengthy post on her "grand exit to the heavens," writing about how they spoke a few nights ago and how their phone calls would go on for hours. He wrote, in part, "She lived a remarkable life up to the last moment. A true pioneer, who bared her heart and soul so we could witness the spirit of the characters she so brilliantly portrayed, which continue to move and inspire generations.  A Black queen who showed us how beautiful black is. The love between us was and is tremendous."

Zendaya wrote on social media of the news of Tyson's passing, "This one hurts, today we honor and celebrate the life of one of the greatest to ever do it. Thank you Cicely Tyson. Rest in great power."

"Today, the world lost a legend, an activist and a groundbreaking actress, Cicely Tyson," NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson said in a statement. "She was an idol to so many of us, including myself, and brought our heroes to life on the silver screen. Not only was she awarded with 8 NAACP Image Awards, but she also received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for a lifetime of achievement in 2010. She will remain a beacon and a strong inspiration for generations to come. Rest in Power."

Common also paid tribute to Tyson, writing on Twitter, "I’m so sad to hear the news that trailblazing artist and cultural icon Cicely Tyson has passed away today. While she may be gone, her work and life will continue to inspire millions for years to come. God Bless."

Robin Thede expressed on Twitter that Tyson is "one of those legends you’d hoped we would have forever" adding that "you knew it was a silly dream but you dreamt it anyway. This day is hard for so many reasons. This is a massive loss. Thank you for your gifts, queen."

Read more tributes to Tyson as they come in below.