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Chadwick Boseman (1976–2020), star of Black Panther

by John Maxwell

Chadwick Boseman, the actor who starred as T’Challa in “Black Panther,” Jackie Robinson in “42,” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall,” died at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced Friday, August 28, 2020.

Wakanda Forever

Boseman played T’Challa, also known as the superhero Black Panther and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the film “Black Panther” his character grappled with the burden of leadership thrust upon him and the decision of whether to keep his nation’s advanced technology secret or share it with an often hostile world for the benefit of all mankind.

The film was an international box office blockbuster and became a cultural phenomenon, particularly in the United States. Many actors can get lost in the special effects of superhero action movies, but Boseman rose above the clatter to project his character’s strength, dignity, and most importantly—his human vulnerability.

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“It’s the way he carries himself, his stillness—you just have that feeling that you’re around a strong person,” “42” writer/director Brian Helgeland said, describing Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Boseman was so good at playing a fictional hero. He was also great at playing real-life heroes and icons. During his career he portrayed Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier; Thurgood Marshall, civil rights lawyer and the first Black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; as well the groundbreaking Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Path to Stardom

Boseman was the youngest of three boys, born to hard working parents in Anderson, S.C. He developed a passion for storytelling and aspired to become a theater director and playwright. He attended Howard University where he was taught acting by Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad. She helped him get into the University of Oxford’s acclaimed summer theater program. He later found out this opportunity was made financially possible by Denzel Washington.

After Boseman became a successful actor, he met Washington at an event who jokingly told him, “Oh, so that’s why I’m here—you owe me money! I came to collect!”

Private battle with cancer

When announcing news of Boseman’s death, his family revealed he’d been diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in 2016. He had been receiving treatment and undergoing procedures throughout the production and promotion tours of his films, including “Black Panther.”

News of his death shocked fans around the world and the outpouring of grief and sympathy has been profound.

Funeral details

A public memorial service honoring Boseman will take place on Thursday, September 3, at 7:00 pm at the Anderson Sports & Entertainment Complex in Anderson, South Carolina. Boseman was born and raised in Anderson. Among the speakers at the memorial service will be James Brown’s daughter, Deanna Brown-Thomas. A special screening of “Black Panther” will follow the service.

Tributes to a star gone too soon

“In African cultures we often refer to loved ones that have passed on as ancestors. Sometimes you are genetically related. Sometimes you are not. I had the privilege of directing scenes of Chad’s character, T’Challa, communicating with the ancestors of Wakanda. We were in Atlanta, in an abandoned warehouse, with bluescreens, and massive movie lights, but Chad’s performance made it feel real. I think it was because from the time that I met him, the ancestors spoke through him. It’s no secret to me now how he was able to skillfully portray some of our most notable ones. I had no doubt that he would live on and continue to bless us with more. But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.” —Ryan Coogler

“With Black Panther, it became clear that Boseman was going for a specific kind of through line in his filmography — a thread asking: Who are your heroes? In a decade when screens reflected Black death, he transformed our screens as a place to convey healing.” —BuzzFeed News

“Boseman’s death feels like a massive blow to Black people everywhere—in a year when we’ve already lost so much—because it is. His iconic turn as King T’Challa in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther became a worldwide movement of joy and celebration for members all across the African diaspora, and was a symbol of strength and goodness for little children everywhere.” —The Root

“Boseman was no impersonator. He was in his way a historian — of other people’s magnetism and volition. Excellence and leadership spoke to and sparked him. They had to. No one approximates this much greatness without a considerable reserve of greatness himself.” —Wesley Morris in the New York Times

“Through works like 42, Get on Up, and Marshall, he helped to tell the stories of important Black men of the 20th Century, ensuring their legacy was perpetuated by the Silver Screen. If we die two deaths, one when we depart and another when no one remembers us anymore, Boseman dedicated part of his life to delay the second death of those men. Along the way, he inspired countless people.” —The Film Experience

“The opening weekend of Black Panther was an event like no other. The film blew past even its best financial expectations, grossing more than $200 million in its opening weekend. Mere days later, Victor Oladipo donned a Black Panther mask at the NBA’s slam dunk contest, exchanging a Wakanda Forever salute with Boseman on the sideline. Even with the league’s biggest stars in attendance, it was clear that he was the most important person in the building. That night, athletes often compared to gods were starstruck by the king of Wakanda. Black children, who had seen themselves on the big screen as a superhero for the first time, donned that same mask that Halloween. Imagine the stories we’ll see told years from now as those children grow older, empowered by seeing Boseman in the role.” —Film Fest 919

Full obituary: Los Angeles Times

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