Chadwick Boseman, the charismatic star whose depiction of Black Panther vaulted him to superstar status, alongside portrayals of real-life heroes James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson, died Friday of cancer. His representative confirmed the actor’s death to Rolling Stone. He was 43.
“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last four years as it progressed to stage IV,” 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. 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,” they added. “It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther. He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.”
Boseman got his start in acting as a high school junior in Anderson, South Carolina. After writing and performing his own play Crossroads, he went to Howard University to study directing. Eventually, Boseman moved to Brooklyn and landed bit parts on Law & Order, CSI: NY, and Cold Case before securing his big break playing Robinson in 2013’s 42.
“We are devastated by the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman,” MLB said in a statement. “His transcendent performance in 42 will stand the test of time and serve as a powerful vehicle to tell Jackie’s story to audiences for generations to come.”
From there, Boseman became known for historical dramas (Get On Up, Marshall) before he linked up with Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe for his breakthrough role. His portrayal of T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther turned him into a household name. The film would later become one of the top-grossing movies of the year.
In the past five years, Boseman transformed into one of Hollywood’s rare black leading men and didn’t shy away from the responsibility of that distinction. “It’s a sea-change moment,” Boseman told Rolling Stone in a 2018 cover story. “I still remember the excitement people had seeing Malcolm X. And this is greater, because it includes other people, too. Everybody comes to see the Marvel movie.”
Denzel Washington, who played Malcolm X and helped finance a fledgling Boseman’s trip to a prestigious summer acting program at Oxford, said, “He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist, who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career. God bless Chadwick Boseman.”
Only Chadwick could embody Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa. He, too, knew what it meant to persevere. To summon real strength. And he belongs right there with them as a hero—for Black kids and for all our kids. There’s no better gift to give our world. ❤ pic.twitter.com/t2tjZDMxNT
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) August 29, 2020
In the aftermath of Boseman’s death, condolences across the acting and sports worlds began to roll out. “Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with Chadwick Boseman’s family,” Marvel Studios wrote on Twitter. “Your legacy will live on forever. Rest In Peace.”
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “Chadwick’s passing is absolutely devastating. 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.”
“I’m absolutely devastated. This is beyond heartbreaking. Chadwick was special,” Chris Evans, who played Captain America in the MCU, wrote. “A true original. He was a deeply committed and constantly curious artist. He had so much amazing work still left to create. I’m endlessly grateful for our friendship.”
“What a man, and what an immense talent. Brother, you were one of the all time greats and your greatness was only beginning,” Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk, wrote, while Captain Marvel star Brie Larson wrote, “Chadwick was someone who radiated power and peace. Who stood for so much more than himself. Who took the time to really see how you were doing and gave words of encouragement when you felt unsure.”
Kamala Harris, California senator and Joe Biden’s vice presidential nominee (and another Howard graduate), remembered Boseman by sharing, “Heartbroken. My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble. He left too early but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family.”
Boseman always knew the stakes. From his first major role to his last, he was a black actor unafraid to make black films for all audiences. “Some [black] actors will say, ‘I don’t want to play a character just because he’s black,’” he told Rolling Stone. “And that’s great, I’m not saying they’re wrong. But that’s missing all the richness that’s been whitewashed.”