Green Mile Star and Hollywood's Favorite Gentle Giant, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dies at 54

By Lisa Collins, contributing writer,
Fri, 09/07/2012 - 4:53pm

Michael Clarke DuncanMichael Clarke Duncan, remembered by his fans and colleagues as a fun-loving "gentle giant," died this week, two months after suffering a heart attack. He was 54. Duncan most notably won over hearts with his portrayal of a death row inmate with supernatural powers in the 1999 hit film, The Green Mile, opposite Tom Hanks.
Raised by a single mother in notorious Chicago’s South Side, Duncan – who had a history of heart trouble – had nurtured a love of acting from a young age.
Focusing on school and athletics rather than the negativity that surrounded him, he eventually went on to attend Alcorn State University in Mississippi, but dropped out to support his family when his mother became ill.
As he dug ditches at People’s Gas Company in Chicago and worked as a bouncer at several clubs, Duncan’s love of acting never faded. He earned the nickname “Hollywood” from co-workers who mocked his ambitions.
Focusing instead on the encouragement of his mother – who told him he’d be a big star one day, he eventually moved to Los Angeles where he took on security jobs while pursuing his dream, and even considered joining the L.A.P.D.
The 6’5” actor worked as a bodyguard for celebrities he’d soon be rubbing elbows with – including Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, but in 1997, when Notorious B.I.G. was killed, Duncan walked away from the dangerous line of work. Reportedly, Duncan was supposed to work as his bodyguard that night but let a friend take his place.
Duncan got his big break in the 1998 film Armageddon, but soared to fame after starring in The Green Mile, a role for which he also received a slew of award nominations including a Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy.
He went on to star in such films as The Whole Nine YardsPlanet of the ApesThe Scorpion KingThe Island, Daredevil, and Sin City as well as making several television appearances and lending his distinct voice to many animated projects. He most recently landed a starring role in the 2012 FOX series “The Finder.”
Green Mile director Frank Darabont called Duncan, “one of the finest people I've ever had the privilege to work with or know. Michael was the gentlest of souls – an exemplar of decency, integrity, and kindness.”
Director Michael Bey recalls the time he spent with Duncan while working on Armageddon. “Everyone loved him, his infectious spirit and great belly laugh. It was a great time I will always remember, how proud I was to watch him grow as an actor.”
"I am terribly saddened at the loss of Big Mike," Tom Hanks said. "He was the treasure we all discovered on the set of The Green Mile. He was magic. He was a big love of a man and his passing leaves us stunned."
Bruce Willis, who recommended Duncan to Darabont for The Green Mile, appeared in four movies with the actor, told E! news:
"Michael Duncan was a great actor, a great human being, and he was my very dear friend. I will miss Big Mike in a big way."
Via Twitter good friend, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, said “I'll miss you my brother.”
Duncan was engaged to be married to “Apprentice” star Omarosa Manigault, with the wedding set to take place in January 2013. Calling him the “love of her life,” the reality TV star and ordained minister said she was devastated by his passing.
The two met in 2010 just after she’d starred in “The Ultimate Merger,” a dating show for TV One in which she was to find a romantic match for Omarosa from a field of 12 men including a former NFL linebacker and even former R&B artist Al B. Sure. In the end, she settled on Duncan, whom she met outside of the show.
She was reportedly at his bedside when he passed, and it was Manigault – as reported by TMZ – who performed CPR on Duncan after he went into full cardiac arrest back in July.
A public viewing for Duncan will be held Sunday, September 9 from 9 am to 2 pm at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery Hall of Liberty in Los Angeles. A separate private funeral will be held Monday, September 10, led by Bishop Charles Blake with a eulogy by Dr. H. Beecher Hicks. Among those tentatively scheduled to speak is Tom Hanks.