The loss of a gentle giant

Actor Michael Clarke Duncan passed away in  a Los Angeles hospital on Monday, Sept. 3. The Los Angeles Times reported that Duncan was admitted to a local hospital after suffering from a severe heart attack several weeks before his death.

Duncan is best known for his breakthrough performance in “The Green Mile,” where he plays a benevolent and childlike hulk of a man convicted of murder and awaiting his turn on death row. Duncan gave a brilliant performance in “The Green Mile,” and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars in 2000.

Before he began working as an actor, Duncan supported himself in Los Angeles doing hard physical labor, such as digging ditches and working as a bodyguard (notably switching clients before Biggie Smalls, the man he was protecting, was killed).  Duncan slowly worked his way into show-business, relying on his sturdy frame and iconic deep voice to secure several bit parts in various 90s sitcoms and even some voiceover roles in video games and animated television shows.  

Duncan’s acting career made a giant leap when he landed a supporting role in the 1998 film “Armageddon.”  The star of the film, actor Bruce Willis took notice of Duncan’s talent and enlisted him as an actor in a film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” in 1999.

Although Duncan (or “Big Mike,” as he was often called by friends and family) was easily typecast as the generic tough guy or bouncer, he received a chance to assume his first dramatic role when he was casted in “The Green Mile” in 1999. The passion and ingenuity which Duncan brought to his role made the film a dazzling success, and proved to audiences and casting agents that he possessed the versatility to take on other large roles.

In the years following “The Green Mile,” Duncan was cast in several interesting roles. He made appearances in comedies such as “The Whole Nine Yards” in 2000 and “Talladega Nights” in 2006, as well as action flicks such as  “The Scorpion King” in 2002 and “Daredevil” in 2003.

Despite his considerable on-screen presence, Duncan found some of his biggest success as a voice actor, reciting line after line in his velvety baritone. He worked on several video game projects, including “Soldier of Fortune” in 2000, “SOCOM 2″ in 2003 and “God of War 2” in 2007. He also lent his voice to several animated characters, both on television and on the big screen. His more notable appearances were in the series “Spiderman” in 2003, “Kung Fu Panda” in 2008 and “Green Lantern” in 2011.

In recent years, Duncan began using his acting presence to advocate for vegetarian lifestyles. In interviews, he raved about the effects his own vegetarian diet had on his health. He publicly supported PETA, stating that his love for animals would never allow him to continue eating meat.

Duncan was 54 when he passed away, and he is survived by his mother and his fiancée.  His family, friends, and fans will remember Duncan as the “gentle giant” whose bright smile and even brighter personality energized every room, set or film he appeared in.