Michael Clarke Duncan has died following heart attack hospitalization
Michael Clarke Duncan, a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nominee for his gentle giant (and death row inmate) in Frank Darabont’s 1999 melodrama The Green Mile, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Duncan, who was 54, had suffered a serious heart attack in July and never recovered. (Photo: Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile, as the inmate John Coffey.)
Based on a Stephen King novel not unlike King’s own The Shawshank Redemption (also directed by Darabont) — nice prison inmates, mean guards (except for Tom Hanks, of course) — The Green Mile wasn’t exactly a critical hit, but the Depression era-set melo with supernatural touches won legions of admirers. The film was the twelfth highest-grossing release in North America that year, earning $136.8 million (approx. $209.5 million today), in addition to $150m overseas.
The Green Mile also found favor within the ranks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Darabont’s movie earned four Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, and Duncan’s supporting nod. (Being John Malkovich‘s Spike Jonze took Darabont’s place in the Best Director shortlist.)
Now, for the most part, even those like myself, who found The Green Mile an endless (188 minutes) ocean of goo, were impressed by Michael Clarke Duncan’s beautifully subdued performance. In fact, as the inmate John Coffey, the huge actor (Duncan’s height: 6’5″) managed to walk a fine line between phony melodrama and self-parody without ever falling into either trap. A truly remarkable feat.
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According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Michael Clarke Duncan obit, the Chicago-born actor (Dec. 10, 1957) was a ditch digger for a natural gas company and bodyguard for the likes of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence before turning to acting.
Although The Green Mile remains his most notable role, Duncan’s movie credits include Armageddon (1998), with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck; Jonathan Lynn’s The Whole Nine Yards (2000), once again with Willis in addition to Matthew Perry and Rosanna Arquette; and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001), with Mark Wahlberg. (It was Duncan’s Bruce Willis connection that helped him to get cast in The Green Mile.)
Also: Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King (2002), with Dwayne Johnson; Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City (2004); and Michael Bay’s The Island (2005), which wasted not only Duncan, but also Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Duncan also provided one of the voices in Kung Fu Panda (2008), plus the voice of Kilowog in the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Green Lantern.
According to the IMDb, Michael Clarke Duncan has two recent movies in the can: Robert Townsend’s In the Hive, with Loretta Devine and Vivica A. Fox, and Kent Moran’s action drama The Challenger, with Justin Hartley.
Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey in The Green Mile photo: Warner Bros.