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‘Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman dies of cancer at 43

 Chadwick Boseman
Actor Chadwick Boseman, who found global fame as King T’Challa in “Black Panther,” died Friday after battling colon cancer.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Chadwick Boseman — a magnetic actor who brought trailblazing Marvel superhero Black Panther to the big screen in a career also highlighted by his portrayals of real-life icons Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get on Up” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” — died Friday. He was 43.

Boseman had privately waged a four-year battle with colon cancer, according to a statement posted from his official Twitter account. He was first diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2016, the same year he made his debut as comics superhero King T’Challa, aka Black Panther, in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and actors Viola Davis and Mark Ruffalo are among those mourning the death of “Black Panther’s” Chadwick Boseman.

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

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Reactions on social media were swift and stunned at the unexpected news.

“Heartbroken. My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wrote on Twitter. “He left too early but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family.”

Chadwick Boseman in a scene from "42."
Chadwick Boseman portrayed baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson in “42.”
(D. Stevens / Associated Press)

Born in South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University and started his career in theater and television before breaking out in the 2013 sports biopic “42" as baseball legend Robinson. In 2014, he co-starred opposite Kevin Costner in the football drama “Draft Day” as a top NFL prospect, then made an electrifying lead turn as Brown, the Godfather of Soul himself, in the musical biopic “Get on Up.”

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It was while promoting “Get on Up” in Europe that he got the call for the role that would change his career. As Black Panther, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Black superhero, Boseman became the face of Wakanda to millions of fans around the world and helped usher in a new and inclusive era of superhero blockbusters. “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture. It earned more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office and remains the fourth-highest-grossing movie of all time in the U.S. (not adjusted for inflation).

“Chadwick’s passing is absolutely devastating,” wrote Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige 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.”

Chadwick Boseman was full of wisdom Sunday night as he and the cast of “Black Panther” received the ensemble cast in a motion picture award at the 2019 SAG Awards.

As Boseman continued to expand the role of T’Challa in the Marvel universe, appearing in a total of four MCU films, including “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” he also added variety and producing power to his film repertoire. He starred in the action drama “Message from the King,” which he also executive produced; “Marshall,” which he co-produced; and “21 Bridges,” which he produced.

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Earlier this year, he earned critical raves for his riveting performance in Spike Lee’s Netflix drama “Da 5 Bloods” as “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway, the fiery lost leader of a squad of Black soldiers in the Vietnam War.

Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther.”
Chadwick Boseman was poised to reprise his Marvel role in “Black Panther 2,” which has not begun production.
(Matt Kennedy / Marvel Studios)

Speaking with The Times in 2018, Boseman, who was also a playwright and director, described a desire to play characters and tell stories that expanded the breadth of representation of the Black experience.

“The projects that I end up doing, that I want to be involved with in any way, have always been projects that will be impactful, for the most part, to my people — to Black people,” said Boseman. “To see Black people in ways which you have not seen them before.”

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Boseman had completed filming on another Netflix project, the 1920s-set musical drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” adapted from the play by Wilson, with Viola Davis and Colman Domingo, due for release later this year.

“Chadwick was a superhero on screen and in life, and it’s impossible to imagine working at the level he has while valiantly battling his illness,” said Netflix co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos in a statement. “His legacy as a person and an artist will inspire millions. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time.”

Boseman’s Oscar-winning co-star Davis tweeted, “Chadwick ... no words to express my devastation of losing you. Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity ... It was an honor working beside you, getting to know you ... May flights of angels sing thee to thy heavenly rest.”

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Boseman was set to star in and produce the samurai action story “Yasuke,” set in 16th century Japan, for his own production banner, Xception Content, and was poised to reprise his Marvel role in “Black Panther 2,” which has not begun production.

Last year, flanked by his “Black Panther” co-stars, Boseman referenced the late singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone as he accepted the Screen Actors Guild Award for best cast in a motion picture on behalf of the ensemble.

“We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured — yet you are young, gifted and black,” he said. “We know what it’s like to be told, ‘There’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on.’

“And that is what we went to work with every day … we knew that we had something special that we wanted to give the world — that we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing, that we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see,” he said.

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“We knew that we had something that we wanted to give.”

Long before he was cast as the first black superhero of the modern Marvel era, and before he brought the Avengers-adjacent King T’Challa of Wakanda to life in his own groundbreaking standalone tentpole, Chadwick Boseman was keeping notes on what a “Black Panther” movie should be.

Just four years ago, shortly after making his onscreen debut in the Marvel universe, Boseman reflected on his run of playing real-life trailblazers, each of whom made their own indelible marks on Black culture and history.

“There’s that ‘first’ thing that you can apply. They’re sort of mavericks, taste-makers, trendsetter, setting precedents,” he mused to The Times, still months away from starting production on “Black Panther.” “As far as who those people are, they’re leaders.

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“Am I like that? I’m just playing them. That’s for somebody else to really explore, but I’m incredibly blessed to be able to do that,” he said. “I know that that’s not a normal thing for this industry, and hopefully it helps to change that fact. If it does, then you can put me in that category.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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