I suppose I just thought everything was okay. That’s the world we live in. We hear news that a celebrity has had a heart attack, and once he’s said to be recovering steadily, we move on. Maybe it’d be wiser to speak for myself, but anyway I shape it, I’m goddamn sad that gentle giant Michael Clarke Duncan has left us.
Passing away yesterday as a result of the heart attack in had in July, Duncan is yet another well-revered celeb that has left far too soon. Although the majority of his many credits limit him to his massive physique, there are several roles in which Duncan was given a chance to flex all he had.
His acting was filled with the compassion and sincerity that was so apparent in how he chose to live his life. He will most certainly be missed.
Married with Children/The Player’s Club/Bulworth/A Night at the Roxbury/etc. (various years)
Pre-1998, Duncan popped up in a number of movie and television shows playing the pusher. He got paid to stand and look intimidating, and not much more. And when he spoke, he let out that voice. That giant, booming, commanding voice. It’s difficult to pick a specific favorite role of his because in all honestly, they kind of mesh into one character. Either way, playing The Pusher got him known; it’s the way in which he capitalized on such seemingly thankless roles that matter most.
When we first meet Bear in Michael Bay’s colossal headache that is Armageddon, he’s setting a pick for Ben Affleck to escape from Bruce Willis. Equipped with little clothing and a very large metal tool, Bear steps in front of Willis, letting his frame do that talking. Willis demands he move, and Bear politely obliges. It’s a great, albeit brief, character introduction, and from that point on, we thankfully get more of Duncan than we had seen yet.
Whether it’s motorcycling away from the cops, dancing in leopard-print underwear, or requesting to spend a night in the White House, Duncan manages to steal damn near every scene he’s in. I never thought I’d credit Michael Bay for his exquisite casting, but credit is well deserved here.
Cats & Dogs/Brother Bear/George of the Jungle 2/Racing Stripes/Kung Fu Panda/Green Lantern/etc. (various years)
As mentioned earlier, equally as big as Duncan’s imposing size was his thunderous voice. His voice made every performance that much more memorable, and when the role required only his speech to do the talking, it was impossible to deny who you were listening to.
Like his many Bouncer roles, it’s difficult for me to signal out a voice over performance that stands above the rest. The important thing is that they stand. With vigor.
The Whole Nine Yards (2000)
Duncan often credited Bruce Willis as the unsung hero of his career. After working together amicably on Armageddon, Willis encouraged Frank Darabont to cast Duncan in his upcoming film (which we’ll discuss in a bit), and when Willis’ next star vehicle came around, Duncan was Willis’ first and only choice to play his right hand man.
Luckily for everyone involved, The Whole Nine Yards is a solid comedy romp. And to watch Duncan here, humorously capitalizing on his physique, it’s impossible to not enjoy every minute he is on screen. A terrific comedic performance of intruding power.
Sin City (2005)
Now, who better to nearly crush Rosario Dawson’s head to a pulp than Michael Clarke Duncan? His brief time on screen as the evil, one-eyed Manute is by far my favorite villain Duncan portrayed.
During one of the first moments we see him onscreen, Manute is holding Dawson’s head like a grapefruit, literally squeezing information out of her. Every slight movement makes us cringe with anticipation – just how close is he to making her head go pop? So supremely badass.
The Best of the Best
The Green Mile (1999)
And here it is, the powerhouse performance. The flawless incarnation of the good that is John Coffey. There isn’t a false note or misspoken word in Duncan’s quiet, controlled portrayal of Coffey. It is, quite simply, a perfect performance, well deserved of the many award nominations (and wins) it garnered.
Two scenes that have most stayed with me: first is when we finally find out what Coffey is all about, and that he is able to cure people of their afflictions. If you’ve ever doubted that there was an actor alive who could captivatingly grab and hold onto Tom Hanks’ balls, well, here’s your case.
Next, and perhaps more tellingly, is the first and only time John Coffey watches a film. He sits center aisle, mesmerized by Fred Astaire singing and dancing his way through “Cheek to Cheek” with Ginger Rogers. Duncan’s entranced face is the personification of superb acting. It’s also the sort of tender moment that reminds me why I love movies as much as I do. Many are to thank for that. Stephen King, for writing the novel, Frank Darabont for visualizing it, but chiefly, I choose to give credit to Duncan.
I certainly hope they left the light on for you, you kind kind man.
Other Notable Roles
Planet of the Apes (2001)
The Scorpion King (2002)
The Island (2005)
Talladega Nights (2006)
The Slammin’ Salmon (2009)
The Finder (2012)
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
William H. Macy
John C. Reilly