Chadwick Boseman, star of “Black Panther,” has died at 43, after a four year battle with colon cancer.
Before he was cast as the Marvel Studios superhero, Boseman’s career first exploded with his portrayals of Black American icons Jackie Robinson (in 2013’s “42”) and James Brown (in 2014’s “Get on Up”). Boseman also appeared in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” and playing Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s “Marshall.”
“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman,” the statement read. “It was the honor of his life to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”
private figure by Hollywood standards, Mr. Boseman rarely publicized details about his personal life. He found fame relatively late as an actor — he was 35 when he appeared in his first prominent role, as Jackie Robinson in “42” — but made up for lost time with a string of star-making performances in major biopics.
Whether it was James Brown in “Get On Up,” Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” or T’Challa in “Black Panther,” Mr. Boseman’s unfussy versatility and old-fashioned gravitas helped turn him into one of his generation’s most sought-after leading men.
News of his death elicited widespread shock and grief, and many prominent figures in the arts world and civic life paid tribute to Mr. Boseman. Martin Luther King III, a human-rights activist and the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said the actor had “brought history to life on the silver screen” in his portrayals of pioneering Black leaders.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president and current Democratic presidential nominee, shared a post on Twitter saying that Mr Boseman had “inspired generations and showed them they could be anything they want — even superheroes.”
Oprah Winfrey, also posting on Twitter, wrote that Mr. Boseman was “a gentle gifted SOUL.”
“Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo,” she added. “The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.”
Mr. Boseman had admired T’Challa and Marvel’s “Black Panther” comics since attending Howard University, where he worked at an African bookstore as an undergraduate.
When the opportunity came to bring the character — and his fictional African homeland, Wakanda — to the big screen, Mr. Boseman embraced the role’s symbolic significance to Black audiences with a statesman’s pride and devotion. He lobbied for the characters to speak in authentic South African accents, and led on-set cast discussions about ancient African symbolism and spirituality.
The film, shot in 2017 after Mr. Boseman received his diagnosis, was a cultural sensation — the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and the first to star a majority Black cast. It was near universally praised by critics for its thematic heft and array of dynamic performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett and others.
Reviewing the movie for Slate, the writer Jamelle Bouie credited Mr Boseman with imbuing the comic-book hero with “both regal confidence and real vulnerability.”
Audiences were even more enthusiastic. Joyful armies of fans participated in special outings and repeated viewings. Many came to theaters dressed in African-inspired clothing and accessories, often using a greeting from the film, “Wakanda forever,” as a convivial rallying cry.
The fervour helped make “Black Panther” one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, with more than $1.3 billion in earnings globally. Its success represented a moment of hope, pride and empowerment for Black moviegoers around the world. And it marked an inflection point in Hollywood, where decades of discrimination against Black-led films gave way to a new era of increased visibility and opportunity for Black artists.
The statement on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said it was “the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’”
How the Walt Disney Company might continue the blockbuster franchise without Mr. Boseman, if at all, was unclear. Although a sequel had been scheduled for release in 2022, filming had yet to begin. On Twitter, fans quickly mounted a campaign demanding that Disney not recast the role. The studio had no comment.
Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on Nov. 29, 1976, in the small city of Anderson, S.C., the youngest of three boys. His mother, Carolyn, was a nurse, and his father, Leroy, worked for an agricultural conglomerate and had a side business as an upholsterer.
Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.
In high school, Mr. Boseman was a serious basketball player, but turned to storytelling after a friend and teammate was shot and killed. He enrolled at Howard University with the dream of becoming a director.
While taking an acting class there with the Tony Award-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad, Mr. Boseman and his classmates were accepted to the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England. The students couldn’t afford the trip, but Ms Rashad helped finance it with assistance from a friend and future colleague of Mr Boseman’s, Denzel Washington.
After graduating, Mr. Boseman moved to New York to work in theater. He wrote and directed several plays, including “Deep Azure” and “Hieroglyphic Graffiti,” many of which were infused with the grammar of hip-hop and pan-African theology. He lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and earned money by teaching acting to students at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
“Before that, I had just wanted to be an artist in New York,” he said. “I didn’t understand that coming to L.A. and trying to be a film actor was a completely different thing.”
Brian Helgeland, the writer and director of “42,” which gave Mr. Boseman his breakout role, attributed his quick rise in the industry to his striking presence onscreen. Mr. Helgeland said Mr. Boseman reminded him of sturdy icons of 1970s virility, like Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood.
“It’s the way he carries himself, his stillness — you just have that feeling that you’re around a strong person,” Mr. Helgeland said.
After starring in “Black Panther,” Mr. Boseman reprised the role in two “Avengers” films, “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
He was developing multiple projects as a screenwriter (he co-wrote an undeveloped script for an international thriller called “Expatriate”) and as a producer (he was a producer and star of the 2019 detective movie “21 Bridges”) for what he hoped would be a fruitful new chapter in his career.
Mr. Boseman continued to take on roles with a sociopolitical edge. He appeared as a Vietnam War hero in the Spike Lee epic “Da 5 Bloods,” released in the spring, and will play a 1920s blues musician in a film adaptation of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” produced by Mr. Washington and Todd Black and due later this year from Netflix.
A lifelong admirer of Muhammad Ali, Mr. Boseman sought to wield his celebrity to advance a greater, moral cause. During this summer’s wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality, he expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He joined other Black entertainers and executives in calling on the industry to cut ties with police departments.
Onscreen and off, he was fueled by a commitment to leave nothing on the table.
“You want to choose a difficult way sometimes,” he said, describing his acting method to The Times last year. “Some days it should be simple, but sometimes you’ve got to take chances.”