Today I was deeply saddened by the news that Michael Clarke Duncan, most famous for playing John Coffey in The Green Mile, has died at the age of 54 following a heart attack two months ago.
There are a small group of actors whose presence can lift your spirits and more often than not the quality of the film they're in. Some of them are talented character actors, some of them are joyously parodying themselves, and some just stand there and calmly burn their way into your memory. Duncan was never the highest profile actor, nor did he spend his post-Green Mile career wandering onto screen, doing John Coffey for five minutes at a hefty pricetag. But he did have a wonderful habit of being the best thing or the saving grace in a great deal of otherwise flawed or forgettable films.
Consider the evidence. Daredevil is a heavily-flawed comic book film with wooden performances from Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner - none of which mattered when faced with Duncan as the Kingpin, a role he would reprise for Spider-Man: The New Animated Series. He is one of the most charismatic performers in Sin City, one of the few people in the film who seems to be having fun with Frank Miller's often mediocre material. Even his supporting role in Armageddon is almost enough to make the rest of Michael Bay's hyperactive action stinker watchable.
But of course, Duncan will rightly be remembered for his outstanding performance in The Green Mile, which still stands as one of the best Stephen King adaptations and Frank Darabont's best film to date (yes, better than Shawshank). Duncan's Oscar-nominated performance as wrongfully-convicted murderer John Coffey is truly one for the ages, utilising his unique voice and physique to bring real humanity to the character and allowing all the Biblical overtones to be expressed. His final scenes in the film still have the power to make me cry every time I see them, and probably always will.
Michael Clarke Duncan was a great man and he will be greatly missed. If you wish to pay tribute to him, go and re-watch The Green Mile, as I plan to do in the near future. If you don't have three hours to spare, or just want a little indication of the man, then watch this clip of him praising Tom Hanks when his Green Mile co-star was honoured by the AFI. RIP.