Actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the regal Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, died Friday of cancer, his representative said. He was 43.
Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, his family said in a statement.
“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.”
Boseman had not spoken publicly about his diagnosis.
Born in South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University and had small roles in television before his first star turn in 2013. Boseman wanted to write and direct, and initially began studying acting to learn how to relate to actors.
Boseman got his first television role in 2003, in an episode of Third Watch. His early work included episodes of the series Law & Order, CSI:NY, and ER. He also continued to write plays, with his script for Deep Azure performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago; it was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work. In 2008, he played a recurring role on the television series Lincoln Heights and appeared in his first feature film, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. He landed a regular role in 2010 in another television series, Persons Unknown.
Boseman had his first starring role in the 2013 film 42, in which he portrayed baseball pioneer and star Jackie Robinson. He had been directing an off-Broadway play in East Village when he auditioned for the role, and was considering giving up acting and pursuing directing full-time at the time. About 25 other actors had been seriously considered for the role, but director Brian Helgeland liked Boseman’s bravery and cast him after he had auditioned twice. In 2013, Boseman also starred in the indie film The Kill Hole, which was released in theaters a few weeks before the film 42. His striking portrayal of the stoic baseball star Robinson opposite Harrison Ford in 2013′s “42” drew attention in Hollywood.
Boseman died on a day that Major League Baseball was celebrating Jackie Robinson day.
In passing, he leaves behind his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, a singer. The couple had kept their relationship low key with one of their first public appearances being captured together by paparazzi in 2015 inside Los Angeles International Airport. They would appear again, publicly in 2017 outside the studio of the late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” where Boseman appeared as a guest. According to Newsweek, “The two have been somewhat secretive about the details of their relationship.”
In 2016 he started portraying the Marvel Comics character T’Challa / Black Panther, with Captain America: Civil War being his first film in a five-picture deal with Marvel. He headlined Black Panther in 2018, which focused on his character and his home country of Wakanda in Africa. The film opened to great anticipation, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year in the United States. Boseman, proudly celebrated this work. He and Leward began to openly attend red carpet events following Black Panther. He reprised the role in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which were released in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both films were the highest grossing of the year they were released, with Endgame going on to become the highest-grossing film of all time.
According to Newsweek, Boseman first publicly acknowledged his relationship to Ledward on March 30, 2019 at the 50th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles, where he received and an award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. During his acceptance speech, he said, “Simone, you’re with me every day. I have to acknowledge you right now. Love you.” She mouthed back the words, “I love you.”
In October 2019, the couple revealed that they were engaged.
Many fellow actors and celebrities paid tribute to Boseman following his death.
“This is a crushing blow” actor and director Jordan Peele said on Twitter, one of many expressing shock as the news spread across social media.
“This broke me,” said actor and writer Issa Rae.
Boseman died at his home in the Los Angeles area with wife Simone and his family by his side, his publicist Nicki Fioravante told The Associated Press. “The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
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