World-renowned author, poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has died.
The 86-year-old — still remembered for her rousing delivery at the President Bill Clinton’s 1992 inauguration — had been in poor health before quietly passing away at her home near Winston-Salem, North Carolina early Wednesday. Helen Brann, longtime publicist for the wordsmith, confirmed news of Angelou’s death in a statement to ABC News:
“She’d been very frail and had heart problems, but she was going strong, finishing a new book. I spoke to her yesterday. She was fine, as she always was. Her spirit was indomitable.”
Her death comes less than a week after Angelou announced she would not attend the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, where she was to be an honoree, citing “health reasons.” The writer cancelled an April event in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as she recovered from an undisclosed “ailment” that required hospitalization.
Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent her formative years in Little Rock, Arkansas, where her childhood was plagued by sexual abuse that left the future orator stunned with selective mutism.
Angelou’s formal education ended in high school, but she went to become a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. She was the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees from colleges and universities across the globe. Angelou chronicled her extraordinary life — which included an unwed pregnancy at 17 — in several best-selling autobiographies, most notably the critically-hailed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
In addition to being an accomplished writer, she was a singer, dancer and the first Black woman in Hollywood to step behind the camera as a director. The three-time Grammy winner was nominated for a Pulitzer, a Tony, and an Emmy for her role in the groundbreaking 1977 TV miniseries, Roots.
Angelou is survived by her son, novelist Guy Johnson.