My obit of Michael Clarke Duncan is online at the Guardian's website (link here), and should be in the paper paper tomorrow. His massive heart attack last July, aged 54, was certainly unexpected--and ironically came just after he had proclaimed the benefits of his vegan diet to the world in a PETA commercial. It wasn't the place to speculate on whether he had used steroids or other body-building drugs which might have affected his heart, or indeed whether the massive weight gain (and subsequent loss) following Daredevil might have had adverse effects.
One bit lost from the piece as I wrote it was the crediting of his girlfriend, the ubiquitous 'reality' TV performer, the Reverend Omorosa Manigault, with having saved his life by performing CPR on Duncan when he suffered the heart attack. He had remained hospitalised since July. Interestingly, although Manigault was referred to as Duncan's 'fiancee' in the press release which announced his death, I could find no reference to an announcement of an engagement.
Duncan's role in The Green Mile plays on any number of cliches, not least racial, but to his credit he legitimately transcended them in a performance of some sensitivity. The film, one of three Stephen King adaptations directed by Frank Darabont, might be seen as an attempt to recapitulate the success of The Shawshank Redemption, but fails in the sense that, unlike its predecessor, it wears its heart on its sleeve from the start, in part because of the compelling nature of Duncan's character.
He was never really able to match that again, though his villainous Kingpin in Daredevil was far more compelling than, say, Colin Farrell's Bullseye. He didn't quite have the depth to play the Ving Rhames role in Pulp Fiction, for example, but given the Bruce Willis connection, he might well have had they hooked up earlier. What remains constant in Duncan's films is always the sense that he seems to be enjoying what he is doing, and not taking himself too seriously, and given his background that makes a lot of sense. It has to be said he had a certain awareness too: after his early billing as 'Big Mike' Duncan, the double-barrelled Michael Clarke Duncan suggests a 'serious' actor. I would have loved to hear him explain that. And I would have loved to hear his insider's perspective on Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. Finally, I do wonder if the Guardian was correct in billing (after I hadn't) Alan Rudolph's film of Breakfast of Champions as a comedy.