Michael Clarke Duncan: Huge, and hugely talented

5:36 AM, Sep 4, 2012   |    comments
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Michael Clarke Duncan (Getty Images)

By Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES - Michael Clarke Duncan, the imposing, bass-voiced actor who earned an Oscar nomination for playing a death row inmate in The Green Mile, died Monday. He was 54.

Duncan was being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after having had a heart attack July 13, said his fiancée, Omarosa Manigault, in a statement released by publicist Joy Fehily.

Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 315 pounds, the Chicago native was a bodyguard before becoming an actor in his 30s. He shot to fame after playing John Coffey, a convicted murderer with a gentle demeanor and extraordinary healing powers, in the 1999 drama The Green Mile.

Duncan kept a yeoman's work schedule. He appeared in several hits, including Sin City, Talladega Nights and Daredevil, as well as lending his canyon-deep voice to the Kung Fu Panda franchise.

In 2012, Clarke appeared in a video for PETA, the animal rights organization, in which he spoke of how much better he felt since becoming a vegetarian three years earlier.

"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."

After The Green Mile, Duncan became a favorite in Hollywood, appearing in several films a year. He owed some of his good fortune to Bruce Willis, who recommended Duncan for The Green Mile after the two appeared together in Armageddon. Duncan would work with Willis again in Breakfast of Champions, The Whole Nine Yards and Sin City.

Born in 1957, Duncan was raised by a single mother who resisted his desire to play football, which led to his decision to become an actor. But when his mother became ill, he dropped out of college and worked as a ditch digger and bouncer to support her. By his mid-20s, while looking for acting parts in Los Angeles, he became a bodyguard for Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and other stars. The murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G., whom Duncan had been hired to protect before switching assignments, led him to quit his job and pursue acting full time.

His death sparked immediate reactions from colleagues on Twitter.

"R.I.P. Michael Clarke Duncan," tweeted Mario Lopez. "One of the nicest & most professional guys I've had the pleasure of knowing."

Zachary Levi, who appeared with Duncan in the TV series Chuck, tweeted: "Blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Michael Clarke Duncan while he was still with us. He was a kind soul that will be missed."

Contributing: The Associated Press



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