Cicely Tyson and Christopher Plummer, who both passed away recently, were the oldest actors to win awards for their work; at age 88 Tyson became the oldest person to win a Tony Award for her 2013 Broadway role in a revival of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful." And at age 82 Plummer won an Oscar for his performance in the bittersweet father-son story "Beginners."
With the sadness of their passing comes the usual reflection for me; scenes from their movies flicker through my mind like film clanking through an old projector; I see myself on the floor in front of my parents' TV, mesmerized by Tyson's performance in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." And I remember the lover I was with as we sat silently on her couch riveted by Plummer's tender performance in "Beginners."
Beyond the passing reflection, the obituaries reveal a deeper con- nection between these two magnificent actors. Art was not an imitation of life for them, but part and parcel of who they were as human beings.
Ms. Tyson refused to take parts that demeaned Black people, and she urged her Black colleagues to do the same, often going without work. She insisted that African-Americans, even if poor or downtrodden, should be portrayed with dignity.
Last month before her memoir "Just As I Am" was published, The New York Times asked her if she had any advice for young people. "It's simple," she said, "I try always to be true to myself. I learned from my mom: 'Don't lie ever, no matter how bad it is.' That has stayed with me, and it will stay with me for as long as I'm lucky enough to be here."
In a career that stretched over seven decades, Mr. Plummer embraced it all - from dramatic literature's greatest works to Hollywood's most commercial exploitations. But first and foremost he was a Shakespearean actor, and he knew it. He brought a fierce intellect to every performance.
On Broadway in 2004 he gave "the performance of a lifetime" as "King Lear." "He delivers a Lear both deeply personal and universal: a distinctly individual man whose face becomes the mirror for man's mortality." (NYT)
"The more you give to an audience," he wrote in his 2008 memoir, "In Spite of Myself," the more you spill out of yourself with either loathing or loving them and getting loathing or loving back. It's a tremendous letdown when the evening is over. You've given an awful lot of your own personality with just the reward of applause at the end, which is a marvelous reward but it isn't quite enough to fill the rest of the night."