Chadwick Boseman: Black Panther Actor, Dies of Cancer at 43

Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ Actor, Dies of Cancer at 43

 

Chadwick Boseman - Oscars 2018 - Getty - Embed 2019
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Chadwick Boseman at 2018 Oscars

Chadwick Boseman, the gifted young actor who projected so much vitality as the star of such films as Black PantherGet on Up and 42, died Friday. He was 43.

Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, his family said in a statement. He had never spoken publicly about his diagnosis.

“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” his family said in the statement. “From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more — all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”’

His death comes amid the nation’s emotional reckoning with racial justice and on baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day, in which every player in the big leagues wears No. 42. He portrayed the legendary Brooklyn Dodger in the Brian Helgeland-directed drama 42.

Survivors include his brothers Kevin, a dancer and singer, and Derrick, a preacher.

In such a short time, Boseman proved eerily adept at capturing the essence of great Americans, whether it be Robinson; Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017), directed by Reginald Hudlin; or soul icon James Brown in Get on Up (2014).

Most recently, Boseman took a turn in Spike Lee’s latest, the June release Da 5 Bloods, as “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway, a U.S. freedom fighter in the Vietnam War. The character is portrayed as a ghost and is seen in flashbacks.

The South Carolina native, however, had his biggest cultural impact with his turn as Black Panther/King T’Challa, the proud king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

In 2016, Boseman appeared for the first time as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, and went on to headline his own Black Panther movie two years later. The film, directed by Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios’ first Black director, became a cultural touchstone with its Black-led cast.

It went on to earn an astounding $1.34 billion globally, No. 14 on the global list of all-time releases. Nearly half of that came internationally, helping dispel Hollywood notions that Black-led films do not perform well overseas.

Boseman’s Panther became an icon for children of color, coming at a time when representation was only just beginning to become a priority in Hollywood.

Boseman learned he was cast as Black Panther when his manager pulled him off a red carpet event in Zurich while he was promoting Get on Up  and told him about a call from Marvel filmmakers the Russo brothers, offering him the part.

Four years later, he was headlining the Los Angeles premiere of Black Panther, which began with an emotional standing ovation for the cast.

“I hope people will watch this movie and see the hero in themselves,” Boseman said. “Even if it’s a white person who sees it, if they can see a Black character and identify with them, it changes a little bit about how our society is.”

The youngest of three sons, Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on Nov. 29, 1976, in Anderson, South Carolina. His mom, Carolyn, was a nurse; his dad, Leroy, was a textile worker.

“I was probably listening to James Brown in the crib. My aunt seemed to listen to him. My mom and dad. There was always James Brown all day,” he said in 2014.

Boseman attended T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, where he played basketball; after a classmate was shot, he wrote a play about it and called it Crossroads.

He graduated in 1995, then headed to Howard University. While in Washington, he worked in an African bookstore and embarked on a trip to Ghana before graduating in 2000 with a degree in directing.

One of his teachers was Phylicia Rashad, the actress who played Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

“Chad was this lanky young man with big eyes and an endearing smile and a very gentle way,” she recalled in 2018. “What I saw in him was the sky was the limit. He never asked me to introduce him to anyone — that’s not his way. He was going to make it on his own merits.”

Rashad helped raise money so that Boseman his fellow classmates could study theater over a summer at the prestigious British American Drama Academy in London.

After college, Boseman lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where he taught acting to kids at a Black research library in Harlem. In 2003, he appeared on episodes of NBC’s Third Watch and Law & Order.

In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles and landed a recurring role on the ABC Family drama Lincoln Heights as Nate, a war veteran with PTSD and the son of an L.A. cop. In 2010, he played a U.S. Marine for a season in Christopher McQuarrie’s Persons Unknown at NBC.

His turn as Robinson in 42 marked a huge turning point for him.