The American actor Michael Clarke Duncan died yesterday (September 3rd) at a Los Angeles hospital following a heart attack at the age of 54. The star was probably best known for his performance as a death row inmate in the 1999 Tom Hanks movie The Green Mile. His portrayal of John Coffey, a convicted murderer, earned him numerous nominations, most notably for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Tom Hanks has paid tribute by saying, “I am terribly saddened at the loss of Big Mike. He was the treasure we all discovered on the set of The Green Mile. He was magic. He was a big love of man and his passing leaves us stunned.”
Duncan was born in Chigaco, Illinois in 1957 and grew up in a single-parent household with his mother and sister after his father left. Football was his first love but he soon turned to acting and dreamed of becoming a famous star in Hollywood.
After high school and college, he quit his job digging ditches for a gas company in Chicago and moved out to Los Angeles where his imposing size soon got him noticed. For a while, he worked as a bodyguard for celebrities such as Will Smith and LL Cool J, while picking up bit parts mostly in TV shows, but his persistence paid off and once he got the part of Bear in the blockbuster Armageddon (1998) alongside Bruce Willis, things really started to take off for him.
It was Willis who championed Duncan for the part of Coffey in The Green Mile and following this, a string of high-profile films helped establish him as a star. Other notable films include The Whole Nine Yards, Planet of the Apes, The Scorpion King, Sin City and The Island.
His impressively deep voice was in high demand for animated films and video games as well, where his versatility as an actor was put to good use. Whether he was playing a powerful and feared crime lord or an Old English Sheepdog, his talent was unmistakable.
The director of The Green Mile, Frank Darabont described him as “one of the finest people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with or know. Michael was the gentlest of souls – an exemplar of decency, integrity and kindness.” There’s no denying that Duncan will be sadly missed not only by those who knew him personally but by his fans all around the world.