Maya Angelou, the author, poet, scholar and activist who died Wednesday at 86, began her showbiz career as an actress and singer, but her larger contribution was in serving as an inspiration and mentor to key industry figures including Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Arsenio Hall.
Angelou made several appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” during its 25-year run, and she was interviewed by Winfrey last year for two episodes of OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday” program.
“I’ve been blessed to have Maya Angelou as my mentor, mother/sister, and friend since my 20’s,” Winfrey said following news of Angelou’s death. “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.”
Tyler Perry echoed Winfrey’s appreciation.
“There have only been a handful of people in my life who have moved me, inspired me, encouraged me, and helped mold the man I am today. One of those people would be Dr. Maya Angelou. She was a woman I called ‘friend,’ ” Perry said. “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.”
BET Networks chairman-CEO Debra Lee noted the breadth of Angelou’s influence in arts and culture.
“Her light will always shine through her extraordinary contributions to the arts and to the very fabric of American culture. She was an icon in literature, an influential voice in civil rights, and an innovator throughout her life,” Lee said. “Through her 86 years, she personified resilience, wisdom and intelligence. She had the courage to confront issues of identity, family and race – and the compassion to create characters that resonated with every American. Her words have inspired Presidents and transcended cultures.”
Arsenio Hall conducted one of Angelou’s last national TV interviews via telephone on his syndicated talkshow. The fact that the show was willing to feature her on air via telephone is a sign of the immense respect she commanded, particularly among African-Americans.
Hall’s interview with Angelou coincided with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January. She noted that King’s assassination fell on her 40th birthday, and she also had words of praise for the only African-American host in national latenight TV at present.
“I’m so proud of you and so grateful,” Angelou told Hall. “I know we’re really in the world of entertainment when I know that Arsenio Hall is back on television.”
Here’s the video clip of the interview: