LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Friends, relatives and some Hollywood heavyweights turned out today for an invitation-only memorial service for Michael Clarke Duncan, the seemingly larger-than-life actor who died a week ago from complications of a heart attack.
Duncan, 54, died Sept. 3 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized since his July 13 heart attack.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound actor with a deep, commanding voice was best known for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a death-row inmate in “The Green Mile.” His film credits also include films such as “Armageddon,” the remake of “Planet of the Apes,” “The Whole Nine Yards,” “Sin City” and “The Scorpion King.” He also voiced characters in the animated film “Kung Fu Panda” and the animated series “Spider-Man.”
Frank Darabont, who directed “The Green Mile,” told the crowd at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills that Duncan’s rise from a ditch-digger to an Oscar-nominated actor was a true inspiration.
“He started off as the guy who was not going to get the part, and ended up being the only actor in the world who could possibly have played it,” Darabont said of Duncan’s role in the film. “His journey as an artist is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever been privileged to witness.”
Duncan was raised by a single mother on Chicago’s South Side and often told interviewers he concentrated on his studies to avoid drugs and alcohol.
He dreamed of becoming an actor while attending college, but instead found work digging ditches for the Peoples Gas Co. in Chicago. Later, Duncan worked as a bodyguard for rappers Will Smith, LL Cool J and The Notorious B.I.G. and actors Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx.
Duncan finally turned to acting in 1995 when he was in his 30s.
He had his breakout role in “The Green Mile,” which was based on a Stephen King novel and co-starred Tom Hanks.
Hanks told ABC7 outside the memorial service that Duncan “was in charge of love” on the film’s set.
“He was a guy who just brought a zest and a joy,” he said. “You always knew when he walked on the set. You always knew when you were involved in a scene with him.”
Duncan was engaged to reality TV star turned minister the Rev. Omarosa Manigault, who performed CPR on her finance when he suffered his heart attack.
“They told us that he wouldn’t make it past three days,” she said.
“And I just asked them for time. Just time so I could find the best doctors.
Time so I could find the best specialists. Time, I just wanted time.”
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Michael Clarke Duncan YCDA (You Can Do Anything) Fund at 9663 Santa Monica Blvd, suite 295, Beverly Hills, Calif., 90210.