Actress and Hollywood icon Cicely Tyson has died at the age of 96. Tyson’s legacy was marked by a long career playing a number of powerful Black female characters, including Constantine Jefferson in The Help and, most recently, Ophelia Harkness in the TV series How to Get Away With Murder.
Before she passed away, she published a memoir entitled Just as I Am: A Memoir. In addition to reflecting on her career, Tyson also opened up about her personal life and relationships, including her marriage to jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.
Here’s what you need to know about Cicely Tyson’s ex-husband Miles Davis:
1. Tyson Wrote About ‘the Miles Davis She Knew’ Her Memoir
In her memoir Just as I Am, Tyson shares honest, candid stories of her time married to Davis as well as what ultimately broke them apart.
In an interview with NPR, Tyson reflected on her time with Davis, and how her understanding of the person he was differed from who he was seen as in the public eye. She said, “I wish people knew the Miles Davis that I knew. Really. Because you can walk into a bookstore and you see reams of books about Miles Davis. And few people who wrote those books know him. The Miles Davis that I know and knew is not the Miles Davis that you’ll read about in those books. I had the good fortune to be close enough to him to have him reveal himself to me the first moment we met. It is the Miles Davis that kept me with him as long as it did. Not only was he brilliantly talented, he was brilliantly sensitive. And that is the Miles Davis that people … don’t know that he was trying to protect.”
Introducing her memoir to the reader, Tyson alludes to the stories that will be uncovered by reading it, writing, “In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.”
2. Tyson’s Marriage Ended in Divorce in 1988
Before Tyson married Miles Davis in 1981, Davis was married to Frances Taylor Davis from 1958 until 1968, and Betty Davis from 1968 to 1969. For the 7 years that they were married, Tyson and Davis did not have any children together.
Tyson and Davis divorced in 1988, a year after she discovered his infidelity. According to Vulture, Tyson writes of the moment she learned her ex-husband was being unfaithful and how she confronted him. She wrote that after she told him “I’m not giving you anything. Why don’t you go out and meet your woman? You know where to meet her,” he grabbed her wrist and she, in turn, grabbed his hair weave from his head. Tyson writes, “Well, honey, he got to twisting and turning, and the more he tugged his head back and forth, trying to pry himself loose, the tighter I held on. By the time he struggled free, I was holding a whole bushel of his weave in my right hand. I hurled it onto the ground, marched out the door, and slammed it shut.” Continuing, she added, “At one point, I heard Miles saying to someone on the phone, ‘Do you know how much I paid for that weave? And she just snatched it right off of my head!’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cringe, which is why I did both.”
Davis Was Wearing a Robe the First Time He & Tyson Met
Tyson and Davis first met one another as friends, while he was still married to his first wife Francis. In her memoir, Tyson reveals that Davis was a neighbor of her friend and that the first time she met Davis, he was knocking on her friend’s apartment door in only a house robe.
Of her feelings for him and their progression over time, Tyson wrote, “I’d been wary to get involved initially, but once I glimpsed his innards, and once it became clear that he and Frances had truly moved on (and I was with him on the day in 1966 when Miles received her divorce papers), my misgivings were swallowed whole by the warmth between us.”
Tyson Tried to Help Davis Through His Struggle With Drug Addiction
According to the Los Angeles Times, Davis spoke of his drug use in the book Miles: The Autobiography. At one point, he writes, “From 1975 to early 1980 I didn’t pick up my horn. Mostly during those four or five years… I just took a lot of cocaine (about $500 a day at one point).” He continued, adding that he had sex with “all the women I could get into my house. I was also addicted to pills, like Percodan and Seconal, and I was drinking a lot… mostly I snorted coke, but sometimes I would inject coke and heroin into my leg
When NPR remarked to Tyson that she had a “forgiving spirit” for the way in which she speaks of Davis in spite of his faults, she replied, “Well, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, forgive each other, huh? We don’t keep riding a rough truck over a sensitive soul. You can’t do that. If people are looking for help, and you look and you see them and you know that they need help and you can help them. At least, I can. I can only speak for myself, OK? And so when I realized that he was in deep trouble and that he wanted — he said, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore.’ So when somebody says that to you and they’re asking for help, at least I would try to help them.”
Tyson Stayed in Davis’s Life Until He Died in 1991
Although Tyson and Davis ended their marriage in 1988, they remained in one another’s lives until his passing. Davis died on September 28, 1991, at the age of 65.
In an interview with Don Lemon for CNN, Davis put into words the significance of her relationship with Davis and the impact he had on her life. Reflecting, she said, “You have two people who are so enriched, blessed by incredible talents. I thought he was. He thought I was. And what it takes to live from day to day with that. There are so many facets to a dual life that is completely alien to most people. There have been some of the most incredible moments afforded me through him… Every moment to me is a learning experience. Once I have experienced [the negative] and lived through it and reached another level of understanding of human beings, especially, particularly talented ones who don’t know themselves how rich they are, then I am the better for that experience.”
Of their time together, Tyson told Gayle King in an interview for CBS This Morning, “I cherish every single moment that I had with him.”