Duncan died at
A former ditch digger for a natural gas company in his native Chicago, Duncan began his Hollywood saga as a celebrity bodyguard in the mid-1990s. He received his first big acting break playing a member of the drilling team sent into space to blow up an asteroid heading to Earth in the big-budget 1998 movie "Armageddon," starring Bruce Willis.
But it was "The Green Mile," starring
"There was something about him that I just couldn't ignore," writer-director
"But once we put him on film, it became apparent that he was up to the task."
Duncan credited acting coach Larry Moss with teaching him "how to dig within myself" for the heavily emotional crying scenes in the movie.
"I'm an emotional person, a very emotional person," Duncan told
In 2002, two years after the
Duncan later appeared in films such as "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000), "Planet of the Apes" (2001), "The Scorpion
He was born Dec. 10, 1957, and grew up on Chicago's South Side. His father left the family when he was 6, and he and his sister, Judith, were raised by their mother, who steered him clear of gangs, drugs and alcohol.
Growing up, he harbored dreams of becoming an actor.
"Of course, people told me, 'Mikey, you will never be an actor. You don't have the look. You're ugly,'" he recalled in a 2003
What helped him, he said, was that his mother "always told me to think 'YCDA.' That stands for 'You Can Do Anything.'"
Duncan attended Alcorn State University in Mississippi but left before graduating to help support his ailing mother. Back in Chicago, he began working for the gas company.
On the job, he talked so much about his dream of going to Hollywood and becoming an actor that his co-workers dubbed him "Hollywood Mike." He finally quit his job and became a security guard for a traveling show. Once the show reached Los Angeles, he decided to stay.
Working first as a bodyguard for
While making "Armageddon," Duncan became friends with Willis, who was instrumental in getting him the role in Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's serial novel "The Green Mile."
"Bruce told me, 'Michael, I've just read this script and you are this guy John Coffey. I just know it,'" Duncan recalled in a 2001 Ottawa Citizen interview. Willis said he'd call Darabont — and he did, telling him that he had found the man to play the role.
"I'm used to being the big tough guy, the bodyguard type," Duncan told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2000. "I had never taken a role like this. I started reading the novel and couldn't put it down. I got emotional while reading it. Once I finished it, I said, 'That's me. I don't care what I have to do, but I've got to play this role.'"
As "The Green Mile" was about to open in theaters nationwide in 1999, Duncan told the
Besides his mother, Jean, and his sister, Judith, he is survived by his fiancee, actress Omarosa Manigault.