Chicago’s Michael Clarke Duncan, an Oscar nominee for ‘The Green Mile,’ dies at 54
By BILL ZWECKER Columnistfirstname.lastname@example.org September 3, 2012 4:42PM
Michael Clarke Duncan
Notable films from the acting career of Michael Clarke Duncan:
“The Players Club,” 1998.
“A Night at the Roxbury,” 1998.
“Breakfast of Champions,” 1999.
“The Green Mile,” 1999.
“The Whole Nine Yards,” 2000.
“Planet of the Apes,” 2001.
“Cats & Dogs,” 2001.
“See Spot Run,” 2001.
“The Scorpion King,” 2002.
“Brother Bear,” 2003.
“Sin City,” 2005.
“Racing Stripes,” 2005.
“The Island,” 2005.
“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” 2006.
“School for Scoundrels,” 2006.
“The Last Mimzy,” 2007.
“Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins,” 2008.
“Kung Fu Panda,” 2008.
“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” 2010.
“Green Lantern,” 2011.
“The Finder” TV series, 2012.
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:16AM
Michael Clarke Duncan, the Chicago native and “gentle giant” whose career path took him from work as a People’s Gas ditch digger, bodyguard and nightclub bouncer to a transformation as an Oscar-nominated actor, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 54.
Mr. Duncan’s publicist released a statement from the actor’s fiancee, former reality star Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, who said Duncan never fully recovered from a massive heart attack he suffered July 13 and died in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
At the time of his heart attack, Manigault-Stallworth, best known for her role on the first season of “The Apprentice,” was credited with initially saving Mr. Duncan’s life by performing CPR on him until paramedics arrived on the scene.
Mr. Duncan was raised by his single mother, Jean Duncan, on the South Side and attended King High School on South Drexel.
While back in Chicago in late 1999 to promote “The Green Mile” — the film that would bring him both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations — he jokingly told the Sun-Times that if the post-Michael Jordan Bulls hadn’t “become my sorry Bulls,” he might never have “gone Hollywood” and pursued acting.
“I made so much money betting on the Bulls when Michael [Jordan] and Scottie Pippen were on the team, there wasn’t much pressure to go find an acting job.”
Ultimately, it was Mr. Duncan’s connections to various actors, including Will Smith, Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx, who he had protected as a bodyguard, that initially opened doors for him in Hollywood.
That led to a number of small roles before he found fame playing the mystical convicted murderer and Death Row inmate John Coffey in “The Green Mile” (1999) starring Tom Hanks.
Right after Mr. Duncan received his Oscar nomination for that movie, he told the Sun-Times, “This is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. That’s something they can’t take away from you, no matter what.”
Though always imposing in stature, the actor had gone on a health kick in recent years. This spring, he 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.”
Among his other key films were the box-office hits “Armageddon,” “Planet of the Apes,” “The Whole Nine Yards,” “The Scorpion King” and “Kung Fu Panda.”
The actor made many guest appearances on television shows including “CSI: New York,” “Chuck,” and “Two and a Half Men.” It was a guest-starring role as Leo Knox on “Bones” in April 2011 that led to his first starring role on a TV program; he played the same character on the Fox spinoff series “The Finder.”
Despite having found success and financial security in Hollywood, Mr. Duncan never forgot his Chicago roots and frequently returned to the city, often to cheer for his beloved White Sox, Bears or Bulls.
He often loved recalling a favorite youthful stunt. In 1979, Mr. Duncan was part of Steve Dahl’s famous “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park. He was among the first 100 people to run on to the field and he slid into third base. Unfortunately, during the ensuing melee, his prized silver belt buckle was stolen. “Security came after me, so we had to run,” he laughingly told the Sun-Times in 2006. “It was death to disco that night. I am part of history.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan grew up with Michael Clarke Duncan.
Arne Duncan, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, often mentions the actor in speeches, talking about how he was a student of Arne Duncan’s mother at her after-school tutoring program in the North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood. Arne Duncan refers to the actor as an example of what an impoverished kid can become, with the right help.
Speaking of Michael Clarke Duncan and other kids who succeeded with the help of the Sue Duncan Children’s Center, Duncan told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001: “I know what these kids can do when they have an opportunity. I’ve seen what can happen.”
Contributing: AP, Stefano Esposito, Rosalind Rossi