Sad news yesterday as Michael Clarke Duncan passed away at the age of 54. He was being treated for a heart attack and never recovered.
A few years back when I was in high school, Michael hosted the Palm Beach International Film Festival and as part of his duties he sat and talked with a group of high school students who were studying film and tv production to answer their questions. It was all shot for a local tv station and I remember seeing him walk into the room and immediately thinking “Wow, he’s nowhere near as tall as I thought he was.” While certainly a big guy, Michael was a more average height than the movies often portrayed him and I was immediately taken back by his charisma and smile.
When you put an actor into a room with shy high school students and tell them to ask him questions, they are bound to be intimidated as we all were. Michael’s smile and ability to joke with this group of teens put us all at ease. There were no real “deep thought” questions from this group and he was fine with that. He spoke of how he stood on apple boxes in The Green Mile to appear taller, how he got through the hours in the make up chair on Planet of the Apes and teased us about movies he had been working on at the time, none of which would become big hits, but it seemed like Michael just enjoyed acting.
It was great for a kid to see someone so kind and generous who didn’t take his Hollywood status for granted. He remembered where he came from as he worked as a ditch digger and bodyguard before becoming an actor full time. After the Q&A and shooting was done Michael said “Everyone come on up, I’ll sign some photos for all of you.” And sign them and personalize them he did, every single one for a group of at least 30 kids who surrounded the gentle giant. The thing I’ll remember most was how during this time he talked to every single one of us, wanting to know what we wanted to do in TV/Film, and how about half way through, who I assume was his agent, told him “Ok, Michael, wrap it up we got to go.” to which Michael responded “We’ve got time, I want to make sure all these kids get their pictures.”
Thanks Michael for not just being a great actor but an amazing human being. Briefly meeting you is a highlight in my life and I will always remember your smile, laughter and fun nature with us kids.
Rest In Peace, Big Guy.