Maya Angelou, celebrated author, poet, professor, dancer, musician, public speaker and activist, died today in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou was 86 years old. Truly a groundbreaking artist, Angelou rose to prominence after the 1969 publication of her memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. In a brutally honest way like no author before her, Angelou exposed the reality of living in the South as a young black girl.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings addressed Angelou’s life until the age of 16; she was alienated in Arkansas because she was black, her mother and father abandoned her, was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, lived on the streets and gave birth to her son, Clyde at the age of 17.
Though she lived an incredibly painful early life, Angelou — Born Marguerite Ann Johnson — always knew the importance of having fun. She once told an interviewer, when asked about her sense of humor, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll die… Against the cruelties of life, one must laugh.” Angelou also said about the importance of laughter: “I am serious, so I laugh a lot. You need to laugh. You don’t laugh enough. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” And it’s a good thing Angelou had such a brilliant sense of humor. She became such a cultural icon that Saturday Night Live had its cast routinely portray the poet, presenting her distinctively elegant speaking voice on top of all-too-pedestrian backdrops. Kenan Thompson played her behind the Weekend Update desk, as did Tracy Morgan. Most recently, Maya Rudolph presented Angelou as the host of a Betty White-inspired prank show called I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs. Perhaps most memorably, however, was David Alan Grier’s recurring Angelou as a pitch person for products like Butterfinger, Fruit Loops and Pennzoil.
For a proper Angelou obituary, you might want to check out The New York Times or ABC News. But if you’d like to keep it at Laughspin, let us celebrate Maya Angelou’s life by having a laugh. You don’t laugh enough.