Chadwick Boseman Dead at 43

The actor best known for his roles as Jackie Robinson and Black Panther has been lost to cancer.

NYT (“‘Black Panther’ Star Chadwick Boseman Dies of Cancer at 43“):

Chadwick Boseman, the actor who found fame as the star of the groundbreaking film “Black Panther” and who also portrayed pioneering Black figures such as Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, died on Friday. He was 43.

A statement posted on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said the actor learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer, which had progressed to Stage 4. It said he died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.

“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” the statement said. “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.”

News of Mr. Boseman’s death elicited shock and grief among many prominent figures in the arts and civic lifeMartin Luther King III, a human-rights activist and the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said that the actor had “brought history to life on the silver screen” in his portrayals of Black leaders.

Oprah Winfrey wrote on Twitter that Mr. Boseman was “a gentle gifted SOUL.”

“Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo,” she wrote. “The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.”

Mr. Boseman portrayed the first Black player in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson, in “42,” in 2013; the sizzling soul singer James Brown in “Get On Up,” in 2014; and the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, in “Marshall,” in 2017.

CNN (“‘Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman dies at 43”):

Actor Chadwick Boseman, who brought the movie “Black Panther” to life with his charismatic intensity and regal performance, has died.

[…]

“With his role as King T’Challa in the boundary-breaking film “Black Panther,” he became a global icon and an inspiring symbol of Black power. That role was the “honor of (Boseman’s) career,” the statement said.

A South Carolina native, Boseman graduated in 2000 from Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, DC. While there, he also attended the British American Drama Academy at Oxford in 1998.”It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of alumnus Chadwick Boseman who passed away this evening. His incredible talent will forever be immortalized through his characters and through his own personal journey from student to superhero! Rest in Power, Chadwick!” University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said in a statement.

Variety (“Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ Star, Dies at 43“):

Chadwick Boseman, star of “Black Panther,” died on Friday after a four year battle with colon cancer, his rep confirmed to Variety. He was 43.

[…]

“Chadwick’s passing is absolutely devastating,” said Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios and chief creative officer of Marvel, in a statement. “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. 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.”

Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger said, “We are all heartbroken by the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman — an extraordinary talent, and one of the most gentle and giving souls I have ever met. He brought enormous strength, dignity and depth to his groundbreaking role of Black Panther; shattering myths and stereotypes, becoming a long-awaited hero to millions around the world, and inspiring us all to dream bigger and demand more than the status quo. We mourn all that he was, as well as everything he was destined to become. For his friends and millions of fans, his absence from the screen is only eclipsed by his absence from our lives. All of us at Disney send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Although Boseman never spoke publicly about his diagnosis, according to the statement, he worked through his treatment for much of his career, starting when he played another Black American icon, NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, in 2017’s “Marshall” — a year before the premiere of “Black Panther.” Boseman most recently appeared in Spike Lee‘s Vietnam War drama “Da 5 Bloods,” and this year he’s due to appear opposite in Viola Davis “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a feature adaptation of the August Wilson play, directed by George C. Wolfe.

Sad news, indeed. He was a young man, albeit older than I realized. And I had no idea he had been ill.

I’m not sure what it says about us as a society that an actor with his talent, who had carried pictures playing iconic heroes of the civil rights movement, is best remembered for playing a C-list Marvel superhero. But the MCU universe is the flagpole of the global movie industry right now and it did so by casting tremendous talent in key roles. Joining the likes of Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbach is no small honor.

Coincidentally, our family rewatched Avengers: Endgame, in which Black Panther plays a small but important role, just last night. That movie (spoiler alert) kills off (or at least ends the careers of) the two cornerstone characters of the first era of the MCU universe, Downey’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America. Along with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, Boseman’s Black Panther was set to be the pillar of the next generation of the Marvel movies.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My BiL died of colon cancer. Not a good way to go.

    RIP.

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  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Superheroes are the Greek Gods and Heroes of our own time. They deserve a bit more respect.

    Furthermore, Black Panther may have been a C-list character before the movie, but that film was A . At the top in quality and cultural impact. After it came out, you could see people greeting each other on the street with the Wakanda salute. I think Boseman can be just as proud of his work there as in portraying Jackie Robinson or Thurgood Marshall. I don’t know of a film that does a better job of portraying the harm of colonialism.

    We lost a good one here. Vaya con Dios.

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  3. CSK says:

    A fine actor, gone much too soon.

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  4. rachel says:

    I see 2020 continues to be horrible.

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  5. wr says:

    But at least Donald Trump’s two sons are alive and apparently in good health. Maybe take that up with your pastor if you happen to go to church this weekend…

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  6. Jim Brown 32 says:

    RIP Brother. You are right up there with Obama in having shown a generation of young Black boys that they are powerful and should take a back seat to no one.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Excellent actor and judging from interviews I’ve seen, a kind, humble guy who cared much more about being a good actor than in being a star.

    Ryan Coogler is at work on prep for Black Panther 2. I wonder what he does now?

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  8. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Ryan Coogler is at work on prep for Black Panther 2. I wonder what he does now?”

    Not so much him as them, starting with Kevin Feige and Marvel and all the way up to Bob Iger. Black Panther grossed well over a billion dollars — this is not a decision they’re leaving to the director.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @wr: Agreed. I can’t imagine they don’t recast. Not just because of the money but because the first movie was such a cultural milestone. You can’t kill off the character and not only cut off a huge branch but also Wakanda and a whole lot of roles for Black actors. (I suppose T’Challa could die from cancer and a new Black Panther be anointed.)

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  10. Paine says:

    There was some fan-chatter about having one of the female characters step into the role, similar to Sam Wilson (Falcon) taking on Captain America. That would give Marvel another female lead, maintain some continuity, and avoid the problems inherent with recasting.

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  11. flat earth luddite says:

    Sorry to hear about this talented young man dying so young. Ramps up my survivor’s guilt, as I was in treatment 2011-2015 with the same disease. I appreciate the grace and strength he showed throughout. RIP.

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  12. Tony W says:

    Somebody should ask Trump if he has any U.S. response to the death of the King of Waconda.

    1
  13. mattbernius says:

    I’m late to the party on this, but I still wanted to gently push back on a couple of things:

    I’m not sure what it says about us as a society that an actor with his talent, who had carried pictures playing iconic heroes of the civil rights movement, is best remembered for playing a C-list Marvel superhero.

    It’s easy to gloss over how important “representation” is. Black Panther is a great example of showing a Black person can be a hero outside of the Civil Rights, Music, and Civil Rights movement. Also the Afrofuturism aspect — including seeing an African Nation convincingly portrayed as the most technologically advanced civilization on the planet (not to mention a modernity that doesn’t look like the traditional Western or Asian Future) is HUGE).

    Also “C-List” isn’t really fair to the character. He’s a Kirby/Lee creation (Boseman’s untimely death happened on what would have been Kirby’s 103 birthday) that has carried his own book multiple times (more times than a Ms/Captain Marvel) and has been a cornerstone of the bigger Marvel Universe since the mid 60’s. Black Panther has been top of the B-List (and way higher than, say “The Guardians of the Galaxy” who were as really DEEP cut prior to their film success).

    In terms of recasting, I don’t see how they do it* — or at least not for the next movie. If they follow the precedent of the comics, Shuri — the character’s sister — becomes the new Black Panther. They’ve already got a great character and actress in place for that part.

    * – Not that Marvel hasn’t recast before without calling much attention to it. Not only did they drop Terrence Howard as Rhodie, but Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner/Hulk was actually a Marvel Movie and everyone seems to have forgotten about that.

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