Michael Clarke Duncan is an actor who doesn’t have the lengthiest list of film credits on his resume.
In fact, I’d say that most people remember him as the big guy from the Tom Hanks film “The Green Mile,” no matter which film he turned up in.
YET LET’S BE honest. Duncan’s portrayal of the character “John Coffey” (remember, “Just like the drink, only spelled different”) was one of those roles that will put the actor into our collective memory for decades to come.
It definitely will outlive the actor himself, since he died Monday at age 54. It wasn’t a long life. But it was good to see that he rose above what were the gang-infested streets of the Kenwood neighborhood (the presence of Hyde Park nearby has helped reduce some of those problems in recent years).
In fact, his story is similar to that of Kirby Puckett, the one-time resident of those public housing towers that used to oversee the Dan Ryan Expressway on the South Side who managed to rise to stardom with the Minnesota Twins, and later the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It is an encouraging tale to see people come out of those parts of Chicago where the depressing overtone is enough to drag anyone down – regardless of whatever innate talents they may possess.
ALTHOUGH IT’S GOOD to see Duncan have a baseball tie more closely related to Chicago – he was one of the few “celebs” who would identify himself as a Chicago White Sox fan.
In fact, in the official Major League Baseball documentary video that records the tale of the 2005 baseball season leading up to the World Series that year, it is Duncan’s bass-toned voice that narrates the tale of how Ozzie Guillen and his crew brought a World Series victory to Chicago for the first time in 88 years.
Probably the next time I pop my copy of the DVD of that documentary into my disc player, I’ll be doing it more to hear Duncan than any tale of the White Sox victory that year (although being reminded of how Orlando Hernandez came into that playoff game against the Boston Red Sox and shut down what was probably meant to be a Red Sox-taking-the-lead away from Chicago is a story that never gets old).
But back to the movie theater – which is where Duncan made his strongest impression on us.
PERSONALLY, I HAVE to confess something. “The Green Mile” is a film I saw once at the movie theater, and have been unable to ever watch again. Not on DVD. Not during times when it appears on various cable television channels.
Whenever I happen to stumble across it, I flip the channel – particularly if it seems like the film is approaching its climactic point where the Coffey character is being put to death by electrocution.
I acknowledge the power of the film (which was based on a Stephen King horror novel). If anything, it gets so intense that it gives me the quivers and the creeps!
It may be too real – even if the idea of a 100-year-old-plus prison guard with no end in sight to his life is fantasy AND the actual execution of the Coffey character is handled in ways that were totally unrealistic to the ways that death by electrocution is carried out.
BUT IT WILL be the way I think of the man whose Hollywood celebrity came following stints as a student at Kankakee Community College and working a laborer’s job for Peoples Gas.
Who knows what people got their gas back because Duncan himself came in to do the work? Kind of like those North Shore suburban families that once employed a housekeeper named Cora – not realizing that at night, she became the legendary blues singer Koko Taylor!
All the more reason why those North Side-oriented individuals don’t know what they’re missing on the Sout’ Side.