Maya Angelou dead at 86

Celebrated writer/poet Maya Angelou has died at the age of 86. The beloved star passed away on Wednesday morning (28May14), just days after cancelling an appearance at an upcoming tribute event due to health troubles. Angelou was due to be honoured by officials at the Major League Baseball organisation at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon on Friday (30May14), but she was too ill to attend the event in Texas.

Reports suggest she died in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Wednesday. Angelou started her career as an entertainer, touring Europe in a production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and recording an album called Calypso Lady in 1957. She also appeared opposite James Earl Jones in an off-Broadway production of racially-charged drama The Blacks in 1961.

However, Angelou became well known for her writing work and as a vocal civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, including the acclaimed 1969 book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, about her early life and the troubles in America’s Deep South, as well as essays and poetry. She also racked up a list of writing credits on TV shows and movies, blazing a trail for black female writers/directors by penning the screenplay for 1972’s Georgia, Georgia, and directing 1996 film Down in the Delta starring Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes. Her acting career included a turn in well-known TV mini-series Roots and an appearance in Tyler Perry’s 2006 comedy Madea’s Family Reunion.

Angelou worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X during America’s Civil Rights movement, and was honoured for her contribution to society with more than 30 honorary doctorates from universities across the U.S. She was also feted with a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her poetry book Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a Tony Award nod for her role in 1973 play Look Away, and three Grammy Awards for spoken word albums.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton presented her with the National Medal of Arts in 2000 and current President Barack Obama handed her the country’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2011.