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Michael Clarke Duncan, Hollywood's gentle giant, dies at 54

FLORENCE ANTHONY Special to the AmNews | 9/6/2012, 11:26 a.m.
Michael Clarke Duncan, Hollywood's gentle giant, dies at 54

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan has died. He was 54. Duncan died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was being treated for a heart attack, said his fiancee, the Rev. Omarosa Manigault, best known for her stint on the reality show "The Apprentice."

Born in Chicago in 1957, Duncan was raised by a single mother who did not want him to play football, which led him to pursue an acting career. However, when his mother became ill, Duncan dropped out of Alcorn State University in Mississippi and went to work as a ditch digger and a bouncer.

From there, he moved to Los Angeles, auditioning for roles and doing security work for Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and other stars. After the Notorious B.I.G., whom Duncan had been hired to protect before switching assignments, was murdered, Duncan got out of the security business and started to act full-time. We first saw him in films like "Friday" and "The Players Club." His big break came when he was cast alongside Bruce Willis in "Armageddon." After becoming friends with Willis while they worked on the film, Willis told Duncan about a movie that was being cast called "The Green Mile."

Willis told him, "You are perfect for the role of John Coffey. Go read the book." He then called the director and got Duncan an audition. Duncan won the role and went on to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1999. That's when I met Duncan.

At that time, every year on Saturday night prior to the Oscars, there was a Black Oscars at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Duncan was there with his manager at the time, Delores Robinson. Although I had never met him, he knew who I was and said, "Hi Flo. How are you?" Robinson carried a purse that said "The Green Mile" on it. Then Will Smith, who was getting a special award that night, said to Duncan, "I gave you your first job, boy," and Duncan just grinned. Smith was talking about a small role that Duncan had done on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Manigault returned to Los Angeles on Monday night. She had been working over the weekend in Orlando, Fla., at the Tom Joyner Family Reunion. In a statement, she said, Duncan "suffered a myocardial infarction on July 13 and never fully recovered." She added that she "is grateful for all of your prayers and asks for privacy at this time. Celebrations of his life, both private and public, will be announced at a later date." Sources say that Duncan and Manigault were planning a January wedding at the time of his heart attack.

Said Duncan's current manager Dan Spilo, "Michael's passing is a tragic loss for anyone who knew this wonderful man, for the business as a whole and for the planet." He added, "God bless his fiancee, Omarosa, who fought for and with him every day and never left his side."