Michael Clarke Duncan, 1957–2012
Tue Sep 4 2012
Chicago native Michael Clarke Duncan, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance as a death row inmate in The Green Mile (1999), died yesterday in Los Angeles. Having suffered a heart attack on July 13, he spent the last few weeks of his life in a hospital. He was 54.
At 6'5", Duncan (or "Big Mike," as Green Mile costar Tom Hanks affectionately called him) was an imposing screen presence. Because of his massive stature, he was often cast as tough guys and villains—playing sadistic crime bosses in comic-book fantasias like Daredevil and Sin City, or providing muscle to event movies like The Scorpion King or Tim Burton's 2001 Planet of the Apes remake. Yet some of the actor's most memorable work played on the discrepancy between his hulking frame and gentle disposition. He had a knack for comedy, providing straight-man support to Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and tackling the title role in the Broken Lizard film The Slammin' Salmon.
Born and raised in Chicago, Duncan moved to L.A. in the mid-'90s, finding work as a bodyguard for A-list celebrities. His big acting break was 1998's Armageddon, in which he played one of the roughneck drillers hired to blow a hole in a state-sized asteroid headed for earth. (Duncan gets the film's funniest scene—he outruns federal agents on a motorcycle and bellows, "Come and get papa bear!") This was the first of several films he starred in alongside Bruce Willis. Fast friends, the two later appeared together in Breakfast of Champions, The Whole Nine Yards and Sin City.
Duncan's rich, recognizable baritone also netted him a number of voice-acting assignments. Beginning with 2001's Cats & Dogs, he lent his pipes to animated features (Kung Fu Panda), Saturday-morning cartoon programs (Spider-Man: The New Animated Series) and video games (God of War II). Last summer, he provided the voice of alien drill-sergeant Kilowog in Green Lantern. Click here to read TOC's interview with Duncan about the film.