LOS ANGELES — Michael Clarke Duncan, the tall and massively built actor with the shaved head and deep voice who received an Academy Award nomination for his moving portrayal of a gentle death row inmate in the 1999 prison drama The Green Mile, died on Monday (Sept. 3, 2012). He was 54.
Mr. Duncan died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to a statement from his publicist, Joy Fehily. He had suffered a heart attack in July and did not recover.
A former ditch digger for a natural gas company in his native Chicago, Mr. Duncan began his Hollywood saga as a celebrity bodyguard in the mid 1990s. He received his first big acting break playing a member of the drilling team sent into space to blow up an asteroid heading to Earth in the big-budget 1998 movie Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis.
But it was The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks as a death row prison guard in a Louisiana penitentiary during the Depression, that thrust Mr. Duncan into the limelight. He portrayed John Coffey, a gentle giant with supernatural powers who has been sentenced to death for the murder of two young white girls.
"There was something about him that I just couldn't ignore," writer-director Frank Darabont said of Mr. Duncan in a 2000 Daily Variety interview. "After his first reading, he kept haunting me. Given that he was a fairly inexperienced actor at that point, obviously there was a concern about 'Gee, how would this guy do?' But once we put him on film, it became apparent that he was up to the task."
In 2002, two years after the Academy Awards ceremony, Mr. Duncan told the Orange County Register: "Realistically, I didn't think I would win the Oscar, but the nomination was a personal validation for me. It proved to me that I was a good actor. More important, it showed other people that I was a serious actor."
Mr. Duncan later appeared in films such as The Whole Nine Yards, Planet of the Apes, The Scorpion King, The Island and Sin City. He also did voice work in films and television, including Brother Bear and Kung Fu Panda.
He was born Dec. 10, 1957, and grew up in Chicago. His father left the family when he was 6, and he and his sister, Judith, were raised by their mother.
Growing up, he harbored dreams of becoming an actor.
"Of course, people told me, 'Mikey, you will never be an actor. You don't have the look. You're ugly,' " he recalled in a 2003 Chicago Sun-Times interview.
What helped him, he said, was that his mother "always told me to think 'YCDA.' That stands for 'You Can Do Anything.' "