RIP: actor Michael Clarke Duncan is dead at 54

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Dec 17, 2012, 4:24 PM EST

Michael Clarke Duncan, the Oscar-nominated actor known for his massive frame and roles in The Green Mile, Daredevil and many other films, died this week at the age of 54.

Duncan passed away on Monday (Sept. 3), two months after first being hospitalized for a heart attack in July. Known for his gentle good nature, down-to-earth demeanor and—at 6 foot 5 and as much as 315 pounds—commanding onscreen presence, Duncan was born in Chicago and worked there for a gas company and as a security guard in clubs before heading to Hollywood.

There he pursued an acting career while continuing to work security for celebrities such as Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and the late Notorious B.I.G. It was the latter's shooting death in 1997 that led Duncan to quit that line of work for good.

After landing several bit parts in films—usually as a security guard or bouncer—Duncan got cast as Bear in Michael Bay's 1998 meteor disaster movie Armageddon. He struck up a friendship with star Bruce Willis, who in turn recommended Duncan for the part that would be his breakthrough—John Coffey in Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's The Green Mile the following year.

Duncan was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe as Coffey, the simple-minded giant with a supernatural gift for healing who is falsely sentenced to death for raping and murdering two little girls. Coffey brought deep emotion and empathy to the role, earning him wide acclaim and putting him on a career track that kept him working steadily in movies, animation and TV until his death.

Duncan's other genre-related outings included roles in director Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake (2001), Sin City (2005), Michael Bay's The Island (2005), The Last Mimzy (2007) and the voice of Kilowog in last year's Green Lantern. In 2002 he played Wilson Fisk, aka the Kingpin, in the Marvel Comics-based film Daredevil (2003)—a character that had been portrayed as white in the comics and anticipated Marvel's similar color-blindness when casting Idris Elba as Heimdall in 2010's Thor.

The actor played many other roles in movies and TV shows, while also lending his voice to a number of animated features and programs, and also acted as a spokesman for PETA and the American Stroke Association. His friend Frank Darabont told Ain't It Cool News that Duncan was "one of the finest people I've ever had the privilege to work with or know. Michael was the gentlest of souls—an exemplar of decency, integrity, and kindness."

Rest in peace, gentle giant.

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