Standing 6'5" and weighing over 300 pounds, African American actor Michael Clarke Duncan inarguably possesses one of Hollywood's more unforgettable figures. A former bodyguard and bouncer, Duncan first gained attention when he appeared as one of a group of oil drillers sent to stop an asteroid from annihilating the Earth in the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. A year later, Duncan's career got another significant boost when the actor earned lavish critical plaudits for his portrayal of a wrongfully convicted death row inmate in The Green Mile.
Born in Chicago on December 10, 1957, Duncan was raised on the city's south side by his single mother. A serious student, Duncan decided that he wanted to play football in high school; after his mother refused to let him, fearing he would get hurt, he developed an interest in acting instead. Following his graduation from high school, the aspiring actor studied communications at Mississippi's Alcorn State University. His studies were cut short when he returned to Chicago to attend to his mother, who had fallen ill. He subsequently found work digging ditches with the Peoples Gas Company and moonlighted as a club bouncer. His work led to a chance encounter with a stage producer who hired him as a security guard for a traveling theatre company, which eventually brought Duncan to Hollywood.
Upon his arrival in L.A., Duncan, who was hovering dangerously close to bankruptcy, secured further work as a security guard and found his first agent. He got his professional start on television, appearing in commercials, sitcoms, and on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. He started his film career playing -- surprisingly enough -- bouncers in such films as The Players Club and Bulworth (both 1998), finally getting his big break -- and the first role that didn't require him to boot people out of clubs -- in Armageddon.
Thanks to the great commercial success of Armageddon, Duncan was able to find subsequent employment in a number of productions, most notably The Green Mile. He earned overwhelmingly strong reviews for his portrayal of doomed, saintly John Coffey, a man whose conviction for a brutal double murder seems at odds with his exceedingly gentle, almost child-like demeanor. Duncan garnered Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for his work in the film. He next switched genre gears, re-teaming with Armageddon co-star Bruce Willis to star in the comedy The Whole Nine Yards, which cast him a brutish thug who terrorizes mild-mannered dentist Matthew Perry. Once again utilizing his massive girth to maximum effect in the following year's The Planet of the Apes Duncan followed up the big budget remake with the made-for-television They Call Me Sirr before once again flexing formidably, this time opposite The Rock, in The Scorpion King. Later turning up as the villainous Kingpin in the comic book superhero film Daredevil (2003), Duncan would also loan his voice to the same character in Spider-Man: The Animated Series later that same year. A string of vocal performances in such animated efforts as Kim Possible: A Stitch in Time, The Proud Family, and Crab Nebula found Duncan's vocal chords in increased demand in television, films, and even videogames, yet by 2005 the hard-working actor was back on the big screen with roles in both Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, and Michael Bay's The Island. Though action may have always been the best genre for the physically imposing actor to make an impression on the big screen, fans would take note that the hulking Duncan also had a keen sense of humor, a point made all the more evident by his role in the 2006 Will Ferrell NASCAR laugher Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Duncan continued to work in television in the following years, making appearances on popular shows including Chuck, Two and a Half Men, and Bones. In 2012, Duncan landed a starring role in The Finder, a short-lived series in which he once again took on the role of former lawyer Leo Knox, whom he had portrayed in Bones. In July of that same year, Duncan suffered a heart attack and never fully recovered; he died on September 3rd at the age of 54.
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi