Michael Clarke Duncan, the actor best known for his Oscar-nominated role alongside Tom Hanks in The Green Mile, died in September 2012 due to heart complications.
The Chicago native was raised by his single mother, Jean, a house cleaner, on Chicago’s South Side. Duncan wanted to play football in high school, but his mother wouldn’t let him, afraid that he would get hurt. He then turned to acting, dreaming of becoming a famous actor.
After graduating from high school and attending community college and Alcorn State University, he worked digging ditches for the gas company. When he quit his job and headed to Hollywood. Duncan took security jobs while in Los Angeles while trying to get some acting work in commercials. During this time, he worked as a bodyguard for celebrities Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G., all the while doing bit parts in television and films. When rapper Notorious B.I.G. was killed in 1997, Duncan quit the personal-protection business.
Duncan’s role in the movie Armageddon (1998) led to his breakthrough performance in The Green Mile (1999), when his Armageddon co-star Bruce Willis called director Frank Darabont, suggesting Duncan for the part of convict John Coffey. He landed the role, getting critical acclaim as well as many other Awards and Nominations, including an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
While he was always in mainly muscle-bound roles, many assumed Duncan to be healthy. So what heart health lessons can we learn from him?
Most people are all too familiar with the concept that ignorance is bliss, but there are instances when ignorance can pose itself as a risk. Most young adults, in particular, don’t seem to know much about cardiac risk factors, but they rise steadily and sharply with age. In fact, heart disease can happen as early as 30.
The latest findings on heart disease are nothing unexpected: According to Dr. Icilma Fergus, it’s still the leading cause of death in the United States, and the number one killer of American men, claiming a life about every 34 seconds.
“The key to understanding why cardio disease is so devasting in the black community is understanding some of the risk factors in that community,” says Dr. Fergus. “Over 58% of black men are overweight, and 52% of blacks have an inactive lifestyle, in addition to practicing other unsafe habits, such as a poor diet and smoking.”
But no matter how old (or young) you are, the only way to stay on top of your game is to know your risk factors and take the right steps to avoid problems down the road.
Here’s how black men in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond can keep their hearts healthy: