Oscar Actors: Duncan, Michael Clark–Background, Career, Awards

Updated July 8, 2020
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Michael Clarke Duncan (December 10, 1957 – September 3, 2012) is best known for his breakout role as John Coffey in The Green Mile (1999), for which he was nominated Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He also appeared Armageddon (1998), The Whole Nine Yards (2000), The Scorpion King (2002), Daredevil (2003), and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), and had voice roles in films such as Brother Bear (2003), Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Green Lantern (2011).

Duncan was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in a single-parent household with his sister, Judy, and mother, Jean Duncan (a house cleaner), after his father left. He always wanted to act, but had to drop out of the Communications program at Alcorn State University to support his family when his mother became ill.

Duncan’s large frame—6 feet 4.5 inches (194.3 cm) and 315 pounds (143 kg)—helped him in his jobs digging ditches for Peoples Gas Company and being a bouncer at several Chicago clubs. Duncan also played basketball at Kankakee Community College and for one season for the Alcorn State Braves.

In 1979, he participated in the Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, where he was among the first 100 people to run onto the field and he slid into third base. During the ensuing riot his silver belt buckle was stolen, while he was stealing a baseball bat from the dugout.

Bodyguard for Celebs

Duncan took security jobs while in Los Angeles while trying to get acting work in commercials. During this time, he worked as a bodyguard for celebrities like Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G., all the while doing bit parts in television and films. When rapper Notorious B.I.G. was killed in 1997, Duncan quit the personal-protection business.

After several bit parts playing bouncers in films such as Bulworth and A Night at the Roxbury, Duncan first came to prominence when cast as Bear in the blockbuster Michael Bay action film Armageddon (1998). During the production of the film, Duncan struck up a friendship with castmate Bruce Willis and it was Willis’ influence that helped him to get his breakout role as gentle giant John Coffey in the Frank Darabont film The Green Mile (1999).

Starring alongside Tom Hanks, Duncan’s performance netted him Oscar nomination in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.

Duncan was then cast in a string of films that helped to establish him as an actor in both action and comedy roles: The Whole Nine Yards (2000), See Spot Run (2001), Planet of the Apes (2001), The Scorpion King (2002), and Daredevil (2003), in which he played The Kingpin from Marvel Comics.  He faced the dual challenge of portraying a typically white character and having to gain 40 pounds (18 kg) to fit the character’s large physique.

In 2009, he stopped eating meat and later appeared in a PETA ad campaign, touting the health benefits and his increased strength from a vegetarian diet.

In 2005, Duncan appeared in two action films, The Island and Sin City where he played Manute, a powerful mobster.

Duncan appeared in a supporting role in the 2006 comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby as Lucius Washington and, in 2009, Duncan played Balrog in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li and starred as the titular Cleon “Slammin'” Salmon in Broken Lizard’s farce The Slammin’ Salmon.

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Famous for his deep, resonant voice, Duncan also did voice roles for Brother Bear (2003) and its sequel, Brother Bear 2 (2006), Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Green Lantern (2011) playing the voice of Kilowog from DC Comics alongside Ryan Reynolds.

His other voice roles include’ TV series such as Loonatics Unleashed and Operation: Z.E.R.O., Quiznos commercials, and a number of video games such as Demon Stone, SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs, The Suffering: Ties That Bind, Saints Row, Soldier of Fortune, and God of War II, where he provided the voice of the Titan Atlas. He additionally reprised his role as the Kingpin in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series.

Duncan also guest starred in numerous television shows. Among these, he appeared in an episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and a first-season episode of CSI: NY. In 2008, he appeared as “Mr. Colt” in the second-season premiere of Chuck, “Chuck Versus the First Date”[19] and as a guest star on two episodes of Two and a Half Men. Most notably, in April 2011, Duncan guest starred on an episode of TV series Bones as Leo Knox which, in 2012, led to Duncan receiving his first starring role as the same character in the spinoff series The Finder. The Bones Season 8 episode “The Partners in the Divorce”, which aired three weeks after his death, was dedicated to him.

On May 14, 2012, Duncan appeared as a guest on the late night talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when the show was taping for a week in Scotland. Duncan was one of the show’s most frequent guests, appearing a total of 18 times, and, the day after Duncan’s death in September, Ferguson began his show with a tribute to him. In January 2013 during The Late Late Show’s winter break, reruns of the Scotland episodes were broadcast with a tribute to Duncan at the beginning of each of the five episodes, featuring Duncan on a pink background and the text “In memory of our friend Michael Clarke Duncan.”

In 2013, Manigault appeared in the cast of The All-Star Celebrity Apprentice and played in Duncan’s honor for his favorite charity and one he had benefited from himself, the Sue Duncan Children’s Center. In episode 2 of the season, Manigault won $40,000 for the charity.

On July 12, 2012, Duncan was taken to Cedars Sinai after suffering heart attack. On September 3, Duncan died in Los Angeles at the age of 54.

At the time of his death, Duncan was dating reality television personality Omarosa Manigault According to his family, Omarosa was under suspicion for changing his will and testament. They also claimed that Omarosa manipulated Duncan in his final days, lied about her engagement and sold his belongings.

Many memorials used one of his famous lines from The Green Mile: “Heaven. I’m in heaven.”