Renowned author and poet Maya Angelou died Wednesday at the age of 86. (Source: Facebook)
WINSTON-SALEM, NC (RNN) - American author and poet Maya Angelou died at her home Wednesday. She was 86 years old.
A statement from her family said she passed quietly in her home before 8 a.m. ET.
"Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension," wrote her son, Guy B. Johnson. "She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace.
"The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love."
A resident of the Winston-Salem, she also served as the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. The school's office of communications released a statement expressing sorrow for the loss of the "beloved poet, author, actress, civil rights activist and professor."
"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," the statement said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Angelou's family and friends during this difficult time."
Some of Angelou's final public messages came via social media.
"And now we come to the day where we can honor the brave men and women who have risked their lives to honor our country and our principles," she posted to Facebook on May 26. "Our history is rife with citizens who care and who are courageous enough to say we care for those who went before us."
On May 23, she wrote, "Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God" on Twitter.
Angelou's death follows recent cancellations of public appearances due to failing health. She backed out of attending the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon last week, according to the Associated Press, and last month canceled an event in Fayetteville, AR, after a hospital visit.
Angelou began as a performer in her 20s, performing at the Purple Onion club in San Francisco alongside Phyllis Diller. Billie Holiday reportedly told Angelou, "You're going to be famous, but it won't be for singing."
She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her 1971 poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die. One of the Civil rights advocate's most popular works is I Know why the Caged Bird Sings. The 1969 memoir made her the first black woman best-seller.
Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning during Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993. During the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House, she read her poem Amazing Peace for President George W. Bush.
In 2011, President Barack Obama presented her with the Medal of Freedom.
Other writings included the inspirational essays Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now (1994) and Letter to My Daughter (2008). Angelou also published health cookbooks including Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes (2005) and Great Food, All Day Long (2010).
In the early 1960s, Angelou moved with her son, Guy, to Cairo, Egypt, to be an associate editor at The Arab Observer, an English language newspaper. It was there she met and befriended Malcolm X.
She returned to the states in 1965 to work with him on a new rights organization, but he was shot and killed Feb. 21. Angelou then moved to Los Angeles to pick up her singing career, where she witnessed the Watts riots.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a friend of Angelou's, and he was assassinated just after her birthday in 1968. For more than 30 years, the poet stopped celebrating it, only sending flowers to Coretta Scott King to mark the day.
A singer of calypso music and involved in modern dance, her first album was Miss Calypso, produced in 1957. Among other accolades bestowed on her were three Grammys, the National Medal of Arts and the Lincoln Medal.
Notable movie and TV appearances include Roots, Sesame Street, Touched by an Angel and Poetic Justice alongside Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur.
She also directed Down in the Delta starring Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes.
She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis on April 4, 1928. Given the nickname Maya by her brother, she took the name Angelou when she began performing in the 1950s, a variation on her first husband's name, Tosh Angelos.
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