Chadwick Boseman, the electric young actor who projected so much vitality as the star of such films as Black Panther, Get On Up and 42, died Friday. He was 43.
Boseman died at his home in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, and family by his side, his publicist, Nicki Fioravante, told the Associated Press.
Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, his family said in a statement. He had never spoken publicly about his diagnosis.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” his family said in the statement. “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. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”
His death comes amid a national reckoning with racial injustice and on baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day, in which every player in the big leagues wears No. 42. He portrayed the legendary Brooklyn Dodger in the Brian Helgeland-directed drama 42.
In such a short time, Boseman proved eerily adept at capturing the essence of great Americans, whether it be Robinson; Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017), directed by Reginald Hudlin; or soul icon James Brown in Get On Up (2014).
Most recently, Boseman took a turn in Spike Lee’s latest, the June release Da 5 Bloods, as “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway, a U.S. freedom fighter in the Vietnam War. The character is portrayed as a ghost and is seen in flashbacks.
The South Carolina native, however, had his biggest cultural impact with his turn as Black Panther/T’Challa, the proud king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
In 2016, Boseman appeared for the first time as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, and went on to headline his own Black Panther movie two years later. The film, directed by Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios’ first Black director, became a cultural touchstone with its Black-led cast.
It went on to earn an astounding $1.34 billion globally, good for No. 14 on the list of top-grossing films at the worldwide box office. Nearly half of that came internationally, helping dispel tired Hollywood notions that Black-led films could not perform well overseas.
Boseman’s Panther became an icon for children of color, coming at a time when representation was only just beginning to become a priority in Hollywood.
Boseman learned he was cast as Black Panther when his manager pulled him off a red carpet event in Zurich while he was promoting Get On Up to alert him he had a call from Marvel and Civil War filmmakers the Russo brothers, offering him the part.
Four years later, he was headlining the Los Angeles premiere of Black Panther, which began with an emotional standing ovation for the cast.
“I hope people will watch this movie and see the hero in themselves,” Boseman told The Hollywood Reporter at the event. “Even if it’s a white person who sees it, if they can see a Black character and identify with them, it changes a little bit about how our society is.”
The youngest of three sons, Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on Nov. 29, 1976, in Anderson, South Carolina. His mom, Carolyn, was a nurse; his dad, Leroy, was a textile worker.
“I was probably listening to James Brown in the crib. My aunt seemed to listen to him. My mom and dad. There was always James Brown all day,” he told THR’s Tatiana Siegel in 2014.
Boseman attended T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, where he played basketball; after a classmate was shot, he wrote a play about it and called it Crossroads.
He graduated in 1995, then headed to Howard University in Washington, D.C. While there, he worked in an African bookstore and embarked on a trip to Ghana before graduating in 2000 with a degree in directing.
One of his teachers was Phylicia Rashad, the actress who played Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show.
“Chad was this lanky young man with big eyes and an endearing smile and a very gentle way,” she told Rolling Stone in 2018. “What I saw in him was the sky was the limit. He never asked me to introduce him to anyone — that’s not his way. He was going to make it on his own merits.”
Rashad helped raise money so that Boseman and his fellow classmates could study theater over a summer at the prestigious British American Drama Academy in London.
After college, Boseman lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where he taught acting to kids at a Black research library in Harlem. In 2003, he appeared on episodes of NBC’s Third Watch and Law & Order.
In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles and landed a recurring role on the ABC Family drama Lincoln Heights as Nate, a war veteran with PTSD and the son of an L.A. cop. In 2010, he played a U.S. Marine for a season in Christopher McQuarrie’s Persons Unknown at NBC.
His role as Robinson in 42 marked a huge turning point for him.
“Sporting a charming lopsided smile, Boseman has the necessary appeal, proves convincing as an athlete and is expressive in spite of the fact that the man he’s playing must mostly keep his true feelings bottled up,” THR’s Todd McCarthy wrote of the actor in his review.
In 2014, Boseman played Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack in Draft Day and music icon Brown in Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, then was Thoth, the Egyptian God of Wisdom, in Gods of Egypt (2016). Five months later, Boseman was on the screen in all his glory as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War.
Boseman reteamed with Anthony and Joseph Russo to produce his first film, 21 Bridges (2019), a crime drama in which he also starred.
According to IMDb, the actor has completed filming on Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on a play from esteemed Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson and also starring Viola Davis. Black Panther filmmaker Ryan Coogler was penning a script for a sequel, which was set for May 6, 2022.
Survivors include his brothers Kevin, a dancer and singer, and Derrick, a preacher.