When word broke late Monday night that Michael Clarke Duncan had passed away at the far too early age of fifty-four we were not quite surprised, having known that he suffered a heart attack in mid-July and was in serious condition ever since. But even before he was hospitalized he seemed like the kind of gentle giant who might be taken away from us too soon. With such a massive, powerful, outsized frame, accompanied by such a soft, kind touch, it would not have been illogical to wonder if his heart could support such a large figure, even though through his charm and personality appeared to have a big heart.
He’s most remembered for his Academy Award Nominated performance in The Green Mile, his breakout role, and, indeed, this is the primary credit noted in his obituaries. But we couldn’t help but feel like we knew him before that, in a lighter, less somber role, in a movie that was very close to our own hearts. And in studying his filmography, we realized what we were thinking of, what made us fond of Duncan all these years: A Night at the Roxbury. Yes, this is an exceedingly dumb movie, even by SNL movie standards, but we were enamored with it as teenagers, and you only need to take one look at Will Ferrell’s lifetime box office to know that it featured a future star. But it also had a small role for Duncan as a bouncer, a vocation that he was not unfamiliar with. It wasn’t anything significant, but with his bowling ball biceps, Barry White-like bass, and obvious warmth in spite of the nature of his role, Duncan left an indelible impression on us.
In the end, perhaps, he was literally larger than life.