Courtesy of MCT
One of the best supporting actors in the film industry, Academy Award nominee Michael Clarke Duncan, died Monday.
Duncan suffered a cardiac arrest in July from which he never fully recovered. He was 54.
Born in Chicago in 1957, Duncan briefly attended college in Mississippi at Alcorn State University, where he majored in communication and walked on to the basketball team, before dropping out and returning home. He worked as a bouncer and as a ditch digger for the Peoples Gas Company, where he often related to his co-workers his desire to be an actor. In 1990, Duncan moved to Los Angeles to pursue that dream. There he spent time as a bodyguard, before diving headfirst into small roles in feature films, typically and appropriately playing a bouncer or a bodyguard.
Reportedly, the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G,, whom Duncan had once been hired to protect, was the deciding factor in his career reassessment.
It was in 1998 that Duncan got his first break, playing Bear, one member of a crew of oil drillers tasked with stopping an asteroid from colliding with Earth in Michael Bay’s “Armageddon.” The Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck film grossed more than $550 million worldwide. Duncan set himself apart from an ensemble of recognizable character actors such as Steve Buscemi, William Fichtner and Peter Stormare with a warm, charismatic performance, adding comic relief to some of the more intense set-pieces.
Duncan’s career-defining role came just a year after the success of “Armageddon.” Adapted from a serial novel by Stephen King, “The Green Mile” was written and directed by Frank Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”). The film tells the story of Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), a death row corrections officer in 1930s Louisiana, and his time with the mysterious inmate John Coffey, played by Duncan.
The role afforded the actor a chance to show a previously unseen dramatic range. His interactions not only with Hanks, but the actors playing the other inmates, as well as Patricia Clarkson as a cancer-stricken woman, made for some of the film’s most emotional moments (indeed, though he saw it at a young age, this writer remembers there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when the film reached its climax).
“The Green Mile” was well received by critics and audiences alike, grossing nearly $140 million domestically, but Duncan was the clear standout: for his performance, he won a Black Reel Award, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, a Saturn Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award (one of the film’s four nominations), all for Best Supporting Actor.
Duncan had an extensive and varied career following “The Green Mile.”
He worked often and in many genres: action films (“The Scorpion King” and “Planet of the Apes”) and comic book and graphic novel adaptations (“Daredevil” and “Sin City”), in which he was often typecast as the mobster or bad guy, but managed to do something special each time out. He stole scenes in comedies such as “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” and acted often in children’s films such as “Cats and Dogs,” “Brother Bear” and “Racing Stripes,” lending his recognizable baritone to animated characters.
News of Duncan’s death came as a shock both to fans and his friends in the film community. By all accounts, Duncan was a loving, passionate man, with a big heart and bigger laugh. Many entertainers took to the web, tweeting their love and memories of the man. Writing into film website Ain’t It Cool News, Darabont said, “I’m devastated at the loss of Michael Clarke Duncan, one of the finest people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with or know. Michael was the gentlest of souls … The sadness I feel is inexpressible.”
In a statement, Hanks concurred: “He was the treasure we all discovered on the set of ‘The Green Mile.’ He was magic.”