To his fans he was the gentle giant who found fame long after he really should have done; a professional in everything he attempted and one of the greats of modern cinema. It was announced late on Tuesday night that Michael Clarke Duncan, star of the Stephen King film The Green Mile and the man bought the Kingpin to life in the film Daredevil, had passed away aged 54.
Michael Clarke Duncan came into acting late in life, but the legacy as one of the great black American actors should not be overlooked for that fact. He had always harboured ambitions to act but dropped out of the communications program at Alcorn State University to support the family when his mother fell ill.
After stints in construction and as a stripper, Michael Clarke Duncan became a bodyguard to the likes of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, L.L. Cool J and Martin Lawrence.
It was in 1998 that he got the breakthrough as an actor that he deserved and it was a part that would lead to some of his best roles he could have imagined. The Bruce Willis disaster movie Armageddon introduced him to the American psyche and ultimately would see him cast as prisoner John Coffey in The supernatural Stephen King thriller The Green Mile alongside Tom Hanks and David Morse. The role as the amiable but falsely accused of murderer and awaiting the death sentence won him huge plaudits from audiences world-wide and an Academy Award nomination in a supporting role.
Other films followed; his portrayal as the gorilla military officer in the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes alongside an excellent Tim Roth was one of the outstanding highlights in an otherwise poor film. This film helped though cement his route to stardom and his portrayal as Wilson Fisk, A.K.A. The Kingpin in Marvel’s Daredevil won him new fans. His menacing brooding and destructive presence in the film was a far cry from that of John Coffey but it is the measure of the man of what he was willing to do for the role of the crime lord of New York City that marks him out as man who gave his all to the film industry and to the performance. There certainly are not many actors who would be willing to bulk out by 40 pounds just to take on a role, especially when they already weighed about 290 pounds and stood at six foot five inches.
Perhaps one of his best roles came in 2005 when he starred again alongside Bruce Willis in Sin City, again playing a mobster but it was a performance that really set him as one of the greats of his generation. To play against type, to perform as the one thing you can’t be takes courage and Michael Clarke Duncan had that in abundance.
It was reported that Mr. Duncan had been in hospital since July 13th 2012 after suffering a heart attack, though he was removed from intensive care in early August.
It is rare for an actor to break into films in the way that he did but the man who was as gentle as he was talented, immense in stature and with a voice that was instantly recognisable will no doubt be remembered for the 14 years he thrilled audiences and showed that no matter the background, no matter the time, talent will shine through in the end.
Michael Clarke Duncan. Born December 10th 1957, Chicago, Illinois. Died: September 3rd 2012, Los Angeles, California.
Ian D. Hall