Michael Clarke Duncan was a big man with a big smile whose death yesterday at 54 cast a very big shadow over Hollywood.
Stars reacted with grief and sadness yesterday upon hearing of Duncan’s death at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was being treated for a heart attack since July 13.
Tom Hanks, who befriended Duncan on the set of 1999’s “The Green Mile” said he was “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.”
“I will miss my friend, Michael Clarke Duncan,” comedian Steve Harvey said on Twitter. “What an incredible soldier in God’s Plan.”
A former bouncer, bodyguard and ditch digger, Duncan’s life changed forever when Bruce Willis—with whom he had appeared in “Armageddon”—pushed for his casting in the role of John Coffey, the giant inmate with the special healing powers, in “The Green Mile.” Duncan was nominated for every acting award under the sun, including the Academy Award and the Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor.
While he didn’t win the Oscar or the Golden Globe, after “The Green Mile” Duncan was set on a soaring trajectory, appearing in at least three or four movies a year for the rest of his career. When he wasn’t appearing onscreen, in roles that invariably played on his 6-5, 315 lb. frame, Duncan was using his deep, sonorous baritone in animated films like “Brother Bear” and “The Land Before Time,” commercials for Quiznos and a number of video games, including “Soldier of Fortune.”
Ironically, it was death that led him to dive into acting with gusto—the death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. Duncan had been serving as a bodyguard to a number of big stars, such as Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx. He had been hired to protect Biggie, but switched assignments before Biggie was gunned down in March 1997. It was at that point that he decided to quit the protection business and The murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G., for whom Duncan had been hired to protect before switching assignments, led him to quit his job and pursue acting full-time.
Duncan was born in Chicago in 1957. Though his size would seem to point to football, his mother didn’t want him to play, so he decided to become an actor instead. But he dropped out of Alcorn State University when she became ill so that he could make money to help support her. By his mid-20’s, he had moved to Los Angeles, looking for bit parts that cashed in on his size, while guarding the stars.
Duncan had a well-chronicled conversion to vegetarianism in 2009, appearing in a video for PETA earlier this year to talk about how much better he now felt.
“I cleared out my refrigerator, about $5,000 worth of meat,” he said. “I’m a lot healthier than I was when I was eating meat.”
In the early morning hours of July 13, Duncan’s girlfriend, television personality Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth came upon Duncan in cardiac arrest at his Southern California home. She used CPR to successfully revive the actor after she called for help. Duncan never left the hospital. Stallworth, 38, best known for being a manipulative but clever participant on “The Apprentice” in 2004, had been dating Duncan since 2010, when the two met in the produce section at Whole Foods. At the end, Stallworth was being referred to as his fiance—apparently the two of them became engaged during his time in the hospital.