Actors

Michael Clarke Duncan: Unraveling the Life, Career, and Sudden Death of the Green Mile Actor

Michael Clarke Duncan submitted to an untimely death at the peak of his career. Here's everything about his life, career, and disappearance.


Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile

Remember the prominent figure from The Green Mile? The man that, to many people, looked monstrous in their eyes but was pure at heart with healing powers that he used for the good?

Michael Clarke Duncan, also known as the famous John Coffey from The Green Mile, fought through a struggling young life to become one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. 

Born on December 10, 1957, in Chicago, Illinois, Duncan was raised by his mother, Jean Duncan, along with his sister, Judy Duncan. His mother, who was then a house cleaner, raised the siblings alone after their father left.

The Early Life of Michael Clarke Duncan

Michael Clarke Duncan

Duncan aspired to play football during his younger days and held a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He tried out for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) at that time. However, when his mother refused to let him play, Duncan decided to push his football dreams away and become an actor instead.

Although he always wanted to act, it was only after his mother’s refusal to play football that he steered himself towards acting. 

Duncan was in a communication program at Alcorn State University. Around this time, he also played basketball at Kankakee Community College and played his part in a season for the Alcorn State Braves

Unfortunately, his mother’s illness forced Duncan to drop out of the communication program to support the family.

Duncan’s prominent figure of 6 feet 5 inches (196 cm) in height and 315 pounds (143 kg) in weight helped him find and secure jobs. In his early days, Duncan worked by digging ditches and being a bouncer in several clubs in Chicago, thanks to his large physique.

Michael Clarke Duncan – Early Acting Career

Michael Clarke Duncan in Armageddon

Duncan’s early days in acting were all about playing bit parts in television and movies. At this time, he pursued various security jobs in Los Angeles. 

As he was working as a bodyguard for celebrities like Will SmithJamie FoxxMartin LawrenceLL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G, Duncan was simultaneously on the quest to find acting gigs in commercials.

However, he decided to quit the personal-protection business when rapper The Notorious B.I.G was killed in a drive-by shooting. 

Duncan began his acting career with minor roles, playing bouncers in movies like Bulworth and A Night at the Roxbury. After getting into these little characters, Duncan appeared as Bear in the blockbuster action movie Armageddon, a Michael Bay film released in 1998.

The Breakthrough

Duncan’s appearance in Armageddon was critical for his acting career. It is deemed his stepping stone, and the movie ultimately helped him achieve more significant success in his career.

During the movie’s production, Duncan sparked a friendship with castmate Bruce Willis, one of the leading actors in Armageddon. With Willis’ influence, Duncan secured his biggest and breakout role as John Coffey in the Frank Darabont movie The Green Mile, released in 1999.

Starring alongside one of the most famous actors, Tom HanksDuncan’s performance as John Coffey won him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.

Following his breakout role, Duncan then gained a wealth of opportunities by acting and providing voice for a string of movies and TV shows. Every new film he appeared in established his title as an actor, and he soon became a successful artist on screen.

Career at Peak

Michael Clarke Duncan in The Scorpion King

Since his role in The Green Mile in 1999, the actor was cast in multiple successful movies such as The Whole Nine Yards (2000), See Spot Run (2001), Planet of the Apes (2001), The Scorpion King (2002), and Daredevil (2003), in which he played Kingpin from the Marvel Comics.

Later in 2005, the actor appeared in two action movies, where he played Jamal Starkweather in The Island and took on the role of a powerful mobster named Manute in Sin City.

Duncan’s performance in The Island was praised by the famous film critic Roger Ebert, writing that “[Duncan] has only three or four scenes, but they’re of central importance, and he brings true horror to them.”

The actor then appeared in the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a comedy movie directed by Adam McKay. Then, in 2009, he appeared again in two new films, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li and The Slammin’ Salmon.

TV Shows, Video Games, and Voice Work

Duncan’s voice work includes movies like Brother Bear (2003), Brother Bear 2 (2006), Kung Fu Panda (2008), and Green Lantern (2011). 

He also gave voice to the TV series Loonatics Unleashed and Operation: Z.E.R.ODuncan’s voice work also includes several famous video games such as Demon StoneSaints RowGod of War II, etc. 

Other TV series where he guest-starred include The Suite Life of Zack & CodyCSI: NYChuckTwo and a Half MenBones, and The Finder.  

Years later, in 2015, the movie The Challenger was released, starring Kent Moran and Michael Clarke Duncan. Unfortunately, it was the last movie Duncan was in, which ultimately marked the loss of a large, bright star in Hollywood.

The Sudden Death of Michael Clarke Duncan

Michael Clarke Duncan

As some of you may already know, we didn’t get to see Duncan on the big screen ever since The Challenger. The root of Duncan’s disappearance is his sudden death, which raised a lot of heat between his then-fiancée Omarosa Manigault Newman and Duncan’s family.

In July 2012, Duncan went into cardiac arrest and was taken to Cedars Sinai Medical Center. The actor fought for relief in the intensive care unit for about a month. On August 6, he was able to move out of the ICU but remained hospitalized. 

Unfortunately, after two months of hospitalization, Michael Clarke Duncan submitted to death on September 3, 2012, as a result of respiratory failure. Duncan was 54 at his time of death.

The actor was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, with a private funeral held for him in Los Angeles on September 10, 2012. 

The Heat That Followed

Duncan’s untimely suffering and death contributed to a lot of tension between his then-fiancée and other family members.

On August 13, 2010, Omarosa Manigault Newman confirmed that she was dating Duncan. Although Newman claims that her timely response to perform CPR helped Duncan at the time of his cardiac arrest, his friends and family believe the opposite, claiming there was some foul play involved in his death. 

The Allegations

A lot of questionable facts led to this heat. For one, the 911 call made by Newman at the time of Duncan’s cardiac arrest was supposed to be released by TMZ. However, reports claim that Newman successfully stopped the release of the file.

In addition to this, Duncan changed his will for Newman. A major red flag that raised many eyebrows, Duncan’s sister, Judy Duncan, started questioning “whether the late actor’s fiancée unduly influenced him to alter his will months before he died and leaving almost everything to her.”

Another claim by Judy states that Newman sold many of Duncan’s valuables without the family’s knowledge, including his cars, watches, awards, etc.

Above all this, the most critical question mark was carved when no autopsy was performed on the late actor even though his family requested it. 

Although none of these allegations have ever been proven, the sudden death of Michael Clarke Duncan remains a mystery even today, given that he was cautious of his health, followed a good diet, and never even consumed alcohol.

Conclusion

Michael Clarke Duncan was a titan of great talent on screen. From playing the most minor roles in movies to becoming a prominent figure in Hollywood, the disappearance of Duncan from the screens left the world in shock.

Known for his breakout role as John Coffey in The Green MileDuncan established himself as an actor with multiple awards and nominations throughout his acting career. 

The actor passed away due to natural causes on September 3, 2012. However, following his death, a lot of tension stirred up between his family and his then-fiancée, Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Newman claimed that it was her effort that Duncan lived a little longer, while his friends and family claimed there was some foul play in his death, targetting Newman. Although the tension lasted a while, both parties never proved any of the allegations they made. 

Although the passing of Duncan was a mystery in many ways, the actor conquered millions of hearts around the globe during his active years, and memories of him still stay alive. 


I’m Aman, a freelance content writer since my 13 years of age. I’ve been writing for 7+ years now, successfully engaging and educating readers. Featured in prominent publications like The Startup, The Writing Cooperative, and The Ascent, I consider myself a well-versed writer in multiple areas, where I've always been able to prove my excellence and expertise. In my free time, I love watching movies and TV shows. I binge-watch a lot, and I consider myself blessed to be able to write about stuff I love!