Thursday, September 06, 2012

RIP Michael Clarke Duncan: Hollywood Has Lost a Real Big Friendly Giant

December 10, 1957 - September 3, 2012
I was shocked to find out that Michael Clarke Duncan passed away after a heart attack on Monday.  I had shut myself off from social media for my vacation, and so I only just found out about this tragedy.  The news hit me a bit harder than I'd have expected for someone I not only never met but never followed to any active degree.  This is one of the huge losses to Hollywood.  The guy may not have been a box office hit or someone who continually churned out Oscar worthy performances, and I can only name a few films without the help of IMDb, but his passing is a groin shot to the film industry.  He appeared to be one of the truly special human beings that resided in Hollywood.  He was the giant with a heart of gold.

The man was massive, and looked like he would grind me into grains to make homemade bread.  He looked like the kind of guy that would be typecast to play the bodyguard or Thug #1.  But he had a unique kind of charisma that allowed him to land roles that were more than just the hired muscle.  Plus he had one of the most captivating smiles in Hollywood, and he owned a laugh that would uplift any person's spirits.  He seemed to be the human equivalent of a giant teddy bear.  He was a guy that I'd happily allow to hold my son or feel like I'd be able to have a fun night at the bar with, but also have the added benefit of being able to go down a dark alley knowing he was at my side.  He looked like a genuine bad ass, but I'm pretty sure he was really just a Big Friendly Giant.

He'll be best remembered for his break out performance in The Green Mile, where he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his roles as John Coffey.  He was basically an unknown before that stand out performance.  It was amazing that a man who looked so intimidating and was built like a house could bring so much sensitivity and compassion to a role.  You fell in love with Duncan's Coffey, and felt safe with him even though he was a convicted murderer.  I'm not sure many other burly man-giants could bring the kind of humanity and sincerity that Duncan delivered in that role.  Maybe it was so effective, because that was the type of person he really was.  He was a man who had compassion, and loved his fellow man, even though he looked like he should be smashing small villages.

I remember there was a lot of outrage when Duncan was cast to play Kingpin in Daredevil.  It is film that is largely panned by everyone, but I actually own the DVD.  I own it by choice.  I bought it while totally sober.  It isn't the greatest piece of cinema of all time, but I've always enjoyed it.  I think Duncan does a fantastic job playing the ruthless crime lord.  I realize the comic book version of Kingpin is lily white, but Duncan nailed everything else perfectly.  He brought an authority to the role that made you believe he could rule a crime empire with an iron fist and that no one would dare cross him.  He also still displayed that charisma and humanity that made you believe that he'd be able to operate in New York with policemen and politicians without causing major problems.  Duncan was able to balance a likability and charisma along with giving off an aura that he can't be messed with and that he is one dangerous villain.  I actually think he was the perfect casting, and not sure there are many who could pull off the characters with the same balance and panache. 

The other role that really stands out to me and displays the talent that Duncan owned was Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  He has a minor supporting role, and the film isn't designed to showcase his skills.  Despite that, this film proved Duncan has great comedic timing and was a legitimately funny guy.  The funniest scenes in the whole film are Duncan's bits in the scenes where Ricky Bobby is recovering after his accident.  It makes me laugh every single time, and it is largely just how he delivers the lines.  It is a real bummer that he won't be involved if they ever do a sequel (this is probably one of my all-time favourite Will Ferrell films).

It sucks that Duncan died so young.  He was only turning 55 years old this December.  He still had a long future in Hollywood.  There seemed like so many more roles that he could have filled.  There were so many movies that he would have made better with his mere presence.  We lost a true asset to the film industry.  But even worse, we lost someone who seemed to be a great human being.  This world needs great human beings, and it is always a bummer when one has to depart so young.

I'm going to miss Duncan.  Or at least, as much as you can miss someone that you only know through his films and the occasional interview.  If I had ever been given the chance to interview a celebrity, he probably would have been one of the people I'd have chosen.  He seemed like he'd have been a lot of fun to talk about sports, life and film with.  He appeared genuine, and that isn't an easy thing to appear when you have cameras in your face on an hourly basis.

I may miss him, but I have his films on DVD.  I can reconnect with him any time I feel the need.  I'll be reminded what a talent he was, and what an amazing amount of charisma he brought to a role.  He was one of the most underrated actors in the industry.  He was definitely one of a kind.  Not many guys had his talent and charisma, but were also hunking masses of humanity.  Like I said, many film roles will now be left empty with the absence of Duncan.

RIP Michael Clarke Duncan and thank you for all the great film moments.

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