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At 6'5" and in excess of 300 pounds, Michael Clarke Duncan cut an imposing figure, but with his breakout performance as the hulking, child-like prisoner in director Frank Darabont's "The Green Mile" (1999), Duncan proved there was more to him than his fearsome physicality. After years of working as a bouncer and bodyguard, aspiring actor Duncan could only manage to land roles of the same ilk after arriving in Los Angeles. That all changed when Duncan impressed pyrotechnic auteur Michael Bay enough to cast him alongside Bruce Willis in "Armageddon" (1998). It was Willis who suggested Duncan for the role of John Coffey in "The Green Mile," and after garnering rave reviews, as well as an Oscar nomination, acting neophyte Duncan suddenly found the doors of Hollywood wide open to him. Duncan paired with Willis again for the comedy "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000), then donned sword and sandals alongside The Rock for the fantasy adventure "The Scorpion King" (2002). He proved versatile enough impress as the iron-fisted underworld boss, Kingpin, in "Daredevil" (2003), the frightened, bio-engineered organ donor in Bay's "The Island" (2005), and a brutish cop in "Sin City" (2005), all with the ease of a seasoned...
At 6'5" and in excess of 300 pounds, Michael Clarke Duncan cut an imposing figure, but with his breakout performance as the hulking, child-like prisoner in director Frank Darabont's "The Green Mile" (1999), Duncan proved there was more to him than his fearsome physicality. After years of working as a bouncer and bodyguard, aspiring actor Duncan could only manage to land roles of the same ilk after arriving in Los Angeles. That all changed when Duncan impressed pyrotechnic auteur Michael Bay enough to cast him alongside Bruce Willis in "Armageddon" (1998). It was Willis who suggested Duncan for the role of John Coffey in "The Green Mile," and after garnering rave reviews, as well as an Oscar nomination, acting neophyte Duncan suddenly found the doors of Hollywood wide open to him. Duncan paired with Willis again for the comedy "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000), then donned sword and sandals alongside The Rock for the fantasy adventure "The Scorpion King" (2002). He proved versatile enough impress as the iron-fisted underworld boss, Kingpin, in "Daredevil" (2003), the frightened, bio-engineered organ donor in Bay's "The Island" (2005), and a brutish cop in "Sin City" (2005), all with the ease of a seasoned thespian. Duncan also frequently lent his distinctive bass voice to family-friendly animated films like "Kung Fu Panda" (2008) and "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010). While perfectly happy to play a villain or an action hero, Duncan's innate gentle nature and good humor were traits which allowed him to expand his repertoire beyond the role of mere muscle. Sadly, his career and life were cut short by dying from heart problems at the age of 54.
Born in Chicago, IL on Dec. 10, 1957, Duncan - known affectionately as "Big Mike" - was raised by his hard-working single mother, Jean, who encouraged him to pursue acting from an early age. So much so, that she forbade him from joining the school football team, lest he be injured, and worked with her son on his diction as she had him practice dramatic readings aloud. Although Duncan dropped out of high school, he eventually returned to earn his GED, and later attended Mississippi's Alcorn State University for three years before returning home to Chicago to assist his ailing mother. Duncan worked digging ditches for the local gas company and moonlighted as a nightclub bouncer for a time, prior to landing a personal security job for the producer of a touring stage show "Beauty Shop, Part 2." Despite dozens of requests by the aspiring thespian to his boss to let him perform in the stage production, Duncan's performance debut would have to wait. When the tour came to an end, Duncan found himself in Los Angeles, where he once again found work as a bouncer and bodyguard for such hip-hop/rap acts as Will Smith, LL Cool J and the Notorious B.I.G. In fact, he was supposed to guard the latter the night the rapper was shot dead in a drive-by shooting in L.A., but had swapped shifts that evening. Fortunately, one of his clients was rapper/film star Ice Cube, who gave him a part as an extra in the urban comedy "Friday" (1995). Encouraged, Duncan picked up an agent and began accumulating bit parts on televisions sitcoms like "Married... With Children" (Fox, 1986-97), and in films like Warren Beatty's political comedy "Bulworth" (1998) as well as the "Saturday Night Live"-inspired "A Night at the Roxbury" (1998) - cast, not surprisingly, as a bouncer.
Duncan's big break came that same year when he wrested the supporting role of Bear in the big-budget, sci-fi action-adventure "Armageddon" (1998), starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. In a bizarre move - that years later, even Duncan could not fully explain - the fledging actor, eager to win the part, poured bottled water over his head before walking in to audition for the part for director Michael Bay. Apparently, it was enough to get him noticed, as Duncan was signed on to join Willis' team of roughneck astronauts in their desperate attempt to destroy a massive meteor before it destroyed the earth. During the filming of "Armageddon," Duncan and Willis became friendly, with the action superstar suggesting a new project being directed by Frank Darabont, based on a recent novel by Stephen King. At Willis' urging, and with the help of an acting coach, Duncan secured his breakout role as the wrongly convicted John Coffey in the supernatural drama "The Green Mile" (1999). Duncan's affecting portrayal of the child-like death row inmate, opposite the likes of heavy hitters Tom Hanks and James Cromwell, earned him the respect of his new peers, crystallized in the form of an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. "Big Mike" was officially on the Hollywood map, that same year appearing with his friend and supporter Willis in the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s "Breakfast of Champions" (1999), alongside an all-star cast that also featured Albert Finney and Nick Nolte.
Duncan reteamed with Willis with a supporting role in the caper comedy "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000), before joining the cast of director Tim Burton's reworking of the sci-fi classic "Planet of the Apes" (2001), as Attar, leader of the militaristic gorillas. He also lent his voice to the anthropomorphic family film "Cats & Dogs" (2001), working with yet another star-studded cast, including Jeff Goldblum, Tobey Maquire and Susan Sarandon. Duncan was at last given the opportunity to try on the mantle of action star, when he appeared alongside Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in genre director Chuck Russell's "The Scorpion King" (2002). A prequel to 2001's "The Mummy Returns," Duncan played an uneasy ally of Johnson's assassin-turned-hero, in an attempt to overthrow an ancient despotic ruler. He acquitted himself so well, that director Mark Steven Johnson tapped Duncan to play Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk, the hulking crime lord of NYC, in the big screen adaptation of the Marvel comic "Daredevil" (2003), opposite Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. After some more voice work in the Disney-animated woodland fable "Brother Bear" (2003), Duncan took on a brief, but riveting cameo as Starkweather, a clone scheduled for organ harvesting, in director Michael Bay's futuristic thriller "The Island" (2005). That same year, Duncan provided the voice for the Clydesdale in the live-action/CGI hybrid "Racing Stripes" (2005), in addition to making an appearance as the brutal enforcer, Manute, in "Sin City" (2005). Directed by Robert Rodriquez and Frank Miller - creator of the graphic novel on which it was based - the highly-stylized pulp film featured yet another all-star cast, including Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke.
For his next project, Duncan switched gears when he took a comedic role in the Will Ferrell NASCAR-themed "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (2006), which went on to become one of the year's highest-grossing comedies. Not quite as successful, was the dark comedy "School for Scoundrels" (2006), starring Billy Bob Thornton as an unorthodox life coach, and Jon Heder as a parking officer with self-esteem problems, in which Duncan played the good doctor's assistant. He also appeared as a national security agent sent to investigate bizarre goings-on in the family fantasy "The Last Mimsy" (2007), before taking a turn as Martin Lawrence's rough-housing older brother in the family comedy "Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins" (2008). Duncan kept busy with back-to-back voice roles in the animated features "Kung Fu Panda" (2008), as the overly confident prison guard, Commander Vachi, as well as in the fantasy adventure "Delgo" (2008), as the voice of the wise elder, Marley. Next, he teamed up with the Broken Lizard troupe for the raunchy restaurant comedy "The Slammin' Salmon" (2009), as the bullying celebrity eatery owner, Cleon "Slammin'" Salmon. Duncan then camped it up as Balrog in the video game-spawned "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" (2009), a cut-rate action romp featuring Kristin Kreuk and Chris Klein.
The following year, Duncan reprised his role in "Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010), once again providing the voice of Sam. Sticking with voice roles, he was Kilowog in the superhero flop "Green Lantern" (2011) before turning to television as a guest star on an episode of Hart Hanson's "Bones" (Fox, 2005- ), which actually became a spin-off for the lighthearted procedural, "The Finder" (Fox, 2012). The show starred Geoff Stults as Walter Sherman, a former Iraq War veteran who possesses the extraordinary ability to find missing persons and valuable items through rather unorthodox means. Duncan played Sherman's loyal partner, Leo Knox, a widower and former attorney. Despite a promising premise and good interplay between Stults and Duncan, the show failed to capture a significant audience and was canceled after 13 episodes. Meanwhile, as he continued appearing in films both large and small, Duncan was admitted to the hospital in July 2012 after suffering a heart attack at home. His fiancée, Omarosa Manigault, reportedly performed CPR and resuscitated Duncan before he was brought to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. While the outlook was considered promising at first, his condition never really improved as Duncan remained in the intensive care unit for over a month. Ultimately, he took a sudden turn for the worse and died on Sept. 3, 2012. He was 54 years old. Manigault reportedly was by his side virtually every minute since he was taken to the hospital in July.
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