Michael Clarke Duncan was a big actor in every sense of the word, a former bodyguard who got a huge break at the age of 41 with a stunning performance in "The Green Mile," and turned in an eclectic range of memorable roles in action, comedy, and dramas.
After tragically dying of a heart attack yesterday at age 54, we're paying tribute to the man by laying out his five career-best filmic turns.
Do you agree with our picks? Leave your thoughts and share your sadness at this great loss in the comments.
5. 'The Whole Nine Yards' (2000)
Famously, it was tough guy Bruce Willis who gave Duncan his big breakthrough, recommending to director Frank Darabont that he cast the 6-foot-5 behemoth in "The Green Mile," even after Willis himself had been turned down for the Tom Hanks lead. It was this act of generosity that perhaps led Duncan to return the favor by appearing as mob enforcer Franklin "Frankie Figs" Figueroa in "Nine Yards," a surprise hit caper comedy co-starring Matthew Perry. Thankfully the actor didn't stick around for 2004's sequel "The Whole Ten Yards," as the extra yard proved a major fumble.
"Michael Duncan was a great actor, a great human being, and he was my very dear friend," Willis told E! News. "I will miss Big Mike in a Big Way."
4. 'Sin City' (2005)
Counting the bizarre, experimental "Breakfast of Champions," this is the fourth Bruce Willis film to feature Duncan, and is was a great get for the actor, as he cuts the perfect exaggerated comic book look. The adaptation of Frank Miller's sprawling noir anthology graphic novel cast him as Manute, a towering mercenary who has the honor of being killed by Benicio del Toro's exploding severed head. Duncan's other forays into the comic book world include fanboy-pleasing turns as big baddie The Kingpin in "Daredevil" as well as the voice of Corps training officer Kilowog in "Green Lantern."
3. 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' (2006)
Duncan proved he could score laughs with the best of them in this brilliantly off-kilter southern racecar satire. As Lucius Washington, pit crew chief for arrogant racing star Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell), Duncan got to share the movie's funniest scene where a delusional Bobby stabs himself in the leg to prove he's not psychosomatically paralyzed, which he is. Duncan's great improv of using a second knife to remove the first one from a hysterical Ferrell's leg was so spontaneous it was included in the movie despite being shot out of focus. The comedy's co-writer/director Adam McKay Tweeted last night, "RIP Michael Clarke Duncan. You were a talented gentle giant."
2. 'Armageddon' (1998)
This was the first real mainstream blockbuster in which America got to experience the awesomeness of Michael Clarke Duncan who plays Bear, right hand man of oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) trying to save the world from a 6-mile wide, Texas-sized asteroid. Audiences loved Duncan's scene sobbing in front of a psychiatrist, or the part where he requests to spend the summer in the Lincoln bedroom of the White House. His quirkiness would not go underutilized by director Michael Bay, who also cast him in 2005's "The Island" as the clone of a famous football player.
1. 'The Green Mile' (1999)
Frank Darabont was only able to bring Stephen King's serialized Depression-era tale of murder and miracles on death row to life thanks to Duncan existing, as it's hard to imagine anyone else but the distinctively large and sweet man acting such a mythic role. Already a big guy, Duncan's size was exaggerated further with special effects, platforms, and other camera tricks to create John Coffey, the prisoner with healing/telepathic powers. The part of Coffey transcends "magical black man" clichés due to the depth of sensitivity Duncan brings to his role, imbuing the tortured inmate with a deep melancholy after the depths of human evil he has had to bear witness to.
"Our experience making 'The Green Mile' together was immersive and incredible, a once-in-a-lifetime journey," Darabont told AintItCool. "Never has an actor more richly deserved the recognition of an Academy Award nomination than Michael did for his performance as John Coffey." His co-star Tom Hanks also remarked to The Telegraph, "He was magic. He was a big love of man and his passing leaves us stunned."