Actor Chadwick Boseman Dead At 43, Remembered For Heroism On And Off-Screen
A hero has fallen and the world is once again in mourning. The incredibly gifted Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” fame died Friday, Aug. 28, after a very private four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43.
Boseman’s family announced the tragic news in a statement posted to the actor’s social media accounts Friday night.
“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman,” the statement read. “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From ‘Marshall’ to ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
Boseman was extremely proud of his biggest starring role as T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) franchise, his family said. The groundbreaking film made history and changed the face of pop culture forever as the first major motion picture to feature a Black superhero.
“It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther,” the statement said.
Boseman was surrounded by his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward and family at the time of his death.
Born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, Boseman knew full-well the stench of racism. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he shared how his school district had integrated only a few years before he was born.
“I’ve been called ‘nigger,’ run off the road by a redneck, like, ‘F**k you, nigger’ – of course,” Boseman told Rolling Stone. “Seen trucks flying Confederate flags on the way to school. I’m not saying it was an everyday occurrence – but if somebody was feeling tradition that day . . .”
Boseman also knew firsthand the pain that gun violence could bring after a member of his basketball team at T.L. Hanna High School was shot and killed.
The incident motivated him to write his first play, “Crossroads,” and stage it at his school. He realized that telling stories “was something that was calling me” and went on to attend Howard University in Washington D.C. – one of the nation’s top HBCUs.
It was there that actress Phylicia Rashad of “The Cosby Show” fame became one of Boseman’s teachers-turned-mentor. Rashad persuaded her friend, Denzel Washington (unbeknownst to Boseman at the time), to pay for Boseman’s tuition at a prestigious Oxford University theater program in England.
Upon graduation, Boseman moved to New York to pursue writing and directing. He also taught children acting at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to make ends meet.
Before securing his first breakout role, Boseman worked in guest and recurring roles on TV series.
Refusal to compromise integrity for roles
Always for the culture, Boseman walked what he talked. He was fired from a role on the soap opera “All My Children” for speaking up about racist stereotypes assigned to the character he was playing.
“It’s one of those things where you get a role, and you don’t really know. When I got it, I was like, ‘This is not part of my manifesto. This is not part of what I want to do. How can I make it work?’” Boseman said in an interview. “I remember going home and thinking, ‘Do I say something to them about this? Do I just do it?’ And I couldn’t just do it. I had to voice my opinions and put my stamp on it. And the good thing about it was, it changed it a little bit for (“Black Panther” co-star Michael B. Jordan, who got the role after him). They said, ‘You are too much trouble,’ but they took my suggestions — or some of them. And for me, honestly, that’s what this is about.”
Uncanny ability to play Black icons
While “Black Panther” catapulted Boseman to global superstardom, he was already well-loved, admired and respected for his uncanny ability to portray real-life, historical Black icons by the time it came along.
Intentional about the roles he selected, Boseman played Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get On Up,” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” prior to his role in “Black Panther”.
During a commencement speech at his alma mater, Howard University, Chadwick Boseman revealed that he took a more difficult route in Hollywood because he wouldn’t compromise and settle for stereotypical roles given to Black people.
“When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes and talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny,” Boseman told the graduates.
That path – and his unquestionable talent – led Boseman to be handpicked by executives at Marvel to play T’Challa without an audition.
“Chadwick didn’t (have to audition). He is that good,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said during an interview with ABC News. “He portrayed Jackie Robinson, he’d portrayed James Brown and we were making this film, (“Captain America: Civil War”). There were a lot of characters in the movie … Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. We needed somebody who could play alongside those great actors and literally went around the table. Chadwick is what we all said.”
Feige reiterated the statements in an interview with Variety.
The world mourns Chadwick Boseman as a real-life hero and king
After the shocking news broke of Boseman’s death, condolences poured in from across the world. While his acting talent was frequently celebrated, there was an overwhelming consensus that Boseman was regal in real life. For many, he lived his off-screen life with just as much grace, class, dignity and integrity as he bought to his characters.
Boseman used his platform to fight for authentic African accents in “Black Panther.” He visited children with cancer, some of whom he stayed in touch with. He spoke out about social justice issues; advocated against racism and injustice and sent inspirational messages to friends and colleagues. He encouraged people to vote – all while privately battling advanced cancer.
Actress Sope Aluko, who starred in “Black Panther” with Boseman, expressed her shock and devastation at his death on Facebook.
“I am asking God why? This loss really hurts… Chadwick (or as I fondly called him – “My African Brother”) was the nicest, kindest, most humble, understated Human I had come across in this Industry. He really was… I am completely devastated by this news!” Aluko said in a lengthy caption under a photo of she and Boseman. “I was worried when I saw he looked ill but I just kept him in prayer. To think he was struggling with this illness all the time we shot BP baffles me, because he was by far the hardest working of us all! Rest In Peace my African Brother. You will be dearly missed. You are resting in the arms of our Lord in the true Kingdom of Heaven. Praying for his wife and family. Peace and Wakanda Forever my King!”
Her sentiment was echoed by many of Boseman’s Marvel Cinematic Universe co-stars.
Actor and director Don Cheadle tweeted, “I will miss you, birthday brother. you were always light and love to me. my god … forever and ever …”
“All I have to say is the tragedies amassing this year have only been made more profound by the loss of #ChadwickBoseman. What a man, and what an immense talent. Brother, you were one of the all time greats and your greatness was only beginning. Lord love ya. Rest in power, King.” Ruffalo tweeted.
“I’m absolutely devastated. This is beyond heartbreaking. Chadwick was special. A true original. He was a deeply committed and constantly curious artist. He had so much amazing work still left to create. I’m endlessly grateful for our friendship. Rest in power, King,” Chris Evans wrote on Twitter with a heart emoji.
Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who also attended Howard, spoke of his humility.
“Heartbroken. My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble. He left too early but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family,” Harris tweeted.
Other Hollywood heavyweights like Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey and former President Barack Obama also expressed their condolences.
“What a gentle gifted SOUL. Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo. The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.” Winfrey tweeted.
“Chadwick came to the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson. You could tell right away that he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years,” Obama wrote with a photo of the two talking.
“He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist, who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career. God bless Chadwick Boseman,” Washington said in a statement.
Feige spoke on behalf of what Boseman meant to Marvel.
“Chadwick’s passing is absolutely devastating. He was our T’Challa, our Black Panther, and our dear friend. Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible,” Feige told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “He embodied a lot of amazing people in his work, and nobody was better at bringing great men to life. He was as smart and kind and powerful and strong as any person he portrayed. Now he takes his place alongside them as an icon for the ages. The Marvel Studios family deeply mourns his loss, and we are grieving tonight with his family.”
The irony that Boseman died the day Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day was not lost. MLB released a statement acknowledging the impact his portrayal of Jackie Robinson had – and will continue to have.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman. His transcendent performance in “42” will stand the test of time and serve as a powerful vehicle to tell Jackie’s story to audiences for generations to come,” MLB tweeted.
Boseman also starred in “The Express: The Ernie Davis Story,” “The Kill Hole,” “Draft Day,” “Gods of Egypt,” “Message from the King,” “21 Bridges,” and Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods.” His final film, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will be released posthumously on Netflix. The network pushed back a scheduled preview of the film due to his death, THR reported. He’d also been tapped to play the first Black Samurai.
Some Facebook users explained why Boseman was so important to the Black community and uniquely felt his loss like he was a close family member.
“To some of us he was a hero, and inspiration. For many Black actors, like myself, he was a beacon of grace, craft and lit a path to uncharted territory. He was a manifestor. So many interviews reveal that and how he visioned his life. I can think of countless times I looked to him as a reference, a marker in the past year alone,” Melissa Sonia wrote. “Chadwick you had to have known what you meant to us, and I’m not sure if it was a love of us, of artistry, of God, of your growth, maybe all of it, that kept you moving into your legacy despite what had to be immeasurable pain. I can never thank you enough. I hope as you join the true ancestral realm, you revel in power, peace and truth. We’ll love you for all of our days and then some. ❤️ Be easy King.”
“I really didn’t expect to feel this way. It’s like it hit me all at once. Chadwick played EVERYBODY in Black History. He told ALL of our stories. I can’t think of any actor that has played so many historical and cultural icons,” wrote TJ McIntyre. “Chadwick was a gift. I’m so glad we treasured him as we did.”
A devout Christian, Boseman was very big on purpose. Quoting the biblical scripture, Jeremiah 29:11, Boseman told 2018 Howard graduates to always keep it at the forefront of everything they do.
“Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you,” Boseman said. “Graduating class hear me well on this day. When you have reached the hilltop and are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet on this particular time in history. … Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. … Remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
While Chadwick Boseman will be greatly missed, and the world wishes it could have had him longer, by his own words he fulfilled his purpose.
Well done Chadwick. Rest well, dear King. Rest well.