TORONTO — Acclaimed author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has died. She was 86.
Angelou was found inside her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. by her caretaker, according to local media reports.
“She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being,” said her son Guy Johnson, in a statement. “She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.”
The iconic writer, who was frequently featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, had been ill. She recently cancelled an appearance at the May 30th Major League Baseball Beacon of Life gala in her honour.
“She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life,” Winfrey reflected, in a statement. “The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher.
“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.”
U.S. president Barack Obama called Angelou “one of the brightest lights of our time.”
He said she was “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.”
Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Angelou published more than 30 works, received more than 50 honourary degrees and earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination.
She became well known following publication of her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Her career included writing, directing and producing plays, TV shows and movies as well as working as a journalist. She gave dozens of lectures every year and recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.
BELOW: Watch Maya Angelou talk about being a human.
For years, Angelou taught at Lake Forest University in North Carolina. The school issued a statement Wednesday mourning the loss.
“Dr. Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world, including countless students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest, where she served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies since 1982. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
READ MORE: Inspiring words from poet Maya Angelou
Wake Forest University released the following statement about Dr. Angelou’s death:
“Today members of the Wake Forest University community mourn the loss of beloved poet, author, actress, civil rights activist and professor Dr. Maya Angelou.
Dr. Angelou was a national treasure whose life and teachings inspired millions around the world, including countless students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest, where she served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies since 1982.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
Angelou, who was twice divorced, earned an Emmy nomination for her role in the mini-series Roots and made guest appearances on shows like Touched by an Angel and the movie Madea’s Family Reunion.
We’re saddened by the passing of our friend Maya Angelou. Thank you for all you’ve done, and for all the hugs. pic.twitter.com/kmLCN59Uef
— Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) May 28, 2014
She was also known for her work in the American Civil Rights movement, where she worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
“There’s a place in you that you must keep inviolate,” Angelou said in an interview with Winfrey. “You must keep it pristine, clean so that nobody has the right to curse you or treat you badly. Because that may be the place you go to when you meet God.”
Dozens of celebrities also took to Twitter to share their thoughts:
Saddened by the news of Maya Angelou’s passing. A brilliant woman who contributed so much to the world. Her light will be sorely missed.
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) May 28, 2014
My heart and soul hurt today because of the passing of a true Genious Maya Angelou. Heaven has another wonderful angel walking its golden st
— Darius Rucker (@dariusrucker) May 28, 2014
RIP to one of the greatest women this world has ever known. Thank you Maya Angelou for all of the gifts and knowledge you gave us…
— Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou has passed away. She was a great light in the world. I feel honored to live in a world she influenced and touched so deeply.
— Cyndi Lauper (@cyndilauper) May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou is my hero. She gave me courage to love myself and others. Her life was a gift to so many.
— America Ferrera (@AmericaFerrera) May 28, 2014
Maya Angelou, a true American hero. A woman of uncommon eloquence & strength. The stars are less lonesome now, the caged bird is free.
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) May 28, 2014
Thank you, Maya, for your power, your politics, your poetry. We need you more than ever. Rest in peace.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) May 28, 2014
Regular people are also mourning Angelou’s passing on social media.
Almost everything I learnt about life and womanhood was the result of reading the incredible works of Dr Maya Angelou. RIP Maya Angelou :’(
— Victoria (@MyCurlsUK) May 28, 2014
We’ve read Maya Angelou’s work in class. I hope my students remember how much she truly contributed to the world. — Tosin Williams (@LearningPeriod) May 28, 2014
RIP Maya Angelou. You were always transcendent anyway. You added so much to human existence, it’s hard to see you go. Thank you!
— Nona Richardson (@nonarichardson) May 28, 2014
RIP Maya Angelou – your life was a lesson in compassion. Your words gave introspection to our thoughts. A legacy to behold. #sweetangel
— Mandy Morrow (@toucan2) May 28, 2014
© Shaw Media, 2014