“The Green Mile” actor, Michael Clarke Duncan had planned to marry and raise kids with Omarosa Manigault before suffering a massive heart attack in July.
The 54-year-old actor died Monday at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, where he had been treated since he suffered the heart attack from which he “never fully recovered,” a written statement from his rep Joy Fehily said.
Michael Clarke Duncan was one big, irresistible jumble of contradictions. His presence was formidable, even intimidating: The former bodyguard had a muscular, 6-foot-4 frame, but it was topped by the brightest of megawatt smiles.
His gravelly baritone was well-suited to everything from animated films to action spectacles, but no matter the role, a warmth and a sweetness was always evident underneath.
Duncan was a prolific character actor, whose dozens of movies included an Oscar-nominated performance as a death row inmate in “The Green Mile” and box office hits including “Armageddon,” ”Planet of the Apes” and “Kung Fu Panda.”
And although he only turned to acting in his 30s, it’s clear from the outpouring of prayers and remembrances he received across the Hollywood and sports worlds that his gentle-giant persona made him much-loved during that relatively brief time.
Duncan’s fiancée,Omarosa Manigault became a celebrity when she competed on Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” show in 2004. She later appeared on several other reality shows.
According to TMZ, Manigault provided lifesaving efforts when Duncan had the heart attack in his home.
A Chicago native, he went to college at Alcorn State University in Mississippi with plans to major in communications, but he dropped out and moved home.
In his 20s, he worked digging ditches for Peoples Gas during the day and as a bouncer at night. He told CNN in 1999 that his co-workers at the gas company called him “Hollywood” because he’d often talk about becoming a movie star.
“I’d be digging a ditch and they’d say, ‘Hey, man, Bruce Willis wants to talk to you about a movie.’ And they’d just crack up laughing,” he said while doing press for “The Green Mile.”
“Those co-workers had no way of knowing how that joke would turn on them.”
In 1990, he decided to measure up to his nickname and he moved to Los Angeles. He worked as a bodyguard, then got a part in a commercial as a drill sergeant.
More roles followed — often ones that depended more on his 315-pound frame than his acting ability. He was a guard in “Back in Business,” a bouncer in “A Night at the Roxbury,” a bouncer for 2 Live Crew in “The Players Club,” and a bouncer at a bar in the Warren Beatty film “Bulworth.”
In 1998, he landed his first significant movie part, playing Bear in the film “Armageddon,” in which a crew of drillers from an oil rig save the Earth from an asteroid.
Director Michael Bay said Duncan cried at his first audition for the film because he “wanted to make his mom proud.”
“His first day on ‘Armageddon’ he sucked,” Bay said. “I remember looking to Ben Affleck and thinking we might need to fire him. But I told him, ‘Mike, I hired you for you. I want the sweet Mr. Clarke Duncan I met in that room.’ I said, ‘The audience is going to fall in love with you.’ He looked and smiled with his deep voice and said ‘OK.'”
Duncan earned “the most improved actor” award among the cast, Bay said. “Everyone loved him, his infectious spirit and great belly laugh.”
“Armageddon” was the beginning of his friendship with Bruce Willis. They appeared in four films together. And it was Willis who called ‘The Green Mile’ director Frank Darabont to put in a good word for Duncan.
In the Oscar-nominated film, Duncan played John Coffey, the huge black man wrongly convicted in a Louisiana town for the rapes and murders of two white girls. Coffey has supernatural powers, though; his hands can heal, even bring back the dead.
A microcosm of faith, Coffey is a messenger of hope and lost hope who develops a relationship with a guard named Paul Edgecomb, played by Tom Hanks.
“He was the treasure we all discovered on the set of ‘The Green Mile,'” Hanks said in a statement released Tuesday. “He was magic. He was a big love of (a) man and his passing leaves us stunned.”
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Duncan’s performance was “both acting and being.” Ebert tweeted Monday that Duncan was “a striking screen presence.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who starred with Duncan in the movie “The Scorpion King” said on Twitter: “When something happens, we always say it happens for a reason. … Michael Clarke Duncan 12/10/57 – 9/3/12 I’ll miss you my brother.”
According to the Internet Movie Database, Duncan had two completed projects that have yet to be released on a nationwide basis. He is slated to appear in “The Challenger,” a boxing movie written and directed by Kent Moran. He will also appear in the Robert Townsend film “In the Hive,” about an alternative school for boys who have been kicked out of other schools.
One of his co-stars in that film was Vivica A. Fox. “My heart is shocked and saddened!! RIP Michael Clark Duncan. U were the most gentle giant and the most gracious of a man! U wont b 4gotten! ” she tweeted.
In the spring of 2012, Duncan had 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.”
Born in Chicago in 1957, Duncan was raised by a single mother whose resistance to his playing football led to his deciding he wanted to become an actor. But when his mother became ill, he dropped out of college, Alcorn State University, and worked as a ditch digger and bouncer to support her.
Last May, he spoke publicly about seeking a healthier lifestyle.
“Being a vegetarian was the best life choice I’ve ever made all natural, all organic!” he wrote on Twitter.
Besides his mother, Jean, and his sister, Judith, he is survived by his fiancée, actress Omarosa Manigault.