By Devan Coggan
August 28, 2020 at 10:35 PM EDT
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Chadwick Boseman, the charismatic actor known for portraying barrier-breaking baseball player Jackie Robinson, music icon James Brown, and Marvel superhero T'Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, has died of complications from colon cancer. He was 43.

His family confirmed the news Friday evening in a statement posted to Twitter, revealing that Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016 and quietly battled it for years as it progressed to stage IV.

"A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much," the statement said. "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."

The statement added, "It was the honor of his career to bring T'Challa to life in Black Panther. He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side."

Born and raised in South Carolina, Boseman studied directing at Howard University and soon built his acting career playing historic Black icons like Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, Brown in Get on Up, and Robinson in 42. (The news of his death comes on the same day that Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, when all players wear Robinson's number, 42. MLB paid tribute to Boseman on Twitter, writing, "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.")

But Boseman was perhaps best known for his history-making role as T'Challa, the first Black superhero to headline a film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The regal king of the fictional nation of Wakanda made his debut in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, before starring in 2018's Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler. With its predominantly Black cast and powerful central performance by Boseman, Black Panther was a watershed moment for pop culture, breaking box office records and becoming the first superhero film to ever earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.

Chadwick Boseman discussing Black Panther at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. | Photo:

Boseman delivered a searing speech about Black representation and Black Panther's legacy at 2019's Screen Actors Guild Awards, telling the audience, "We know what it's like to be told there's not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it's like to be the tail, but not the head. We know what it's like to be beneath, but not above. And that is what we went to work with every day. Because we knew not that we would be around during awards season or that it would make a billion dollars, but we knew that we had something special that we wanted to give the world — that we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing."

Boseman also appeared as T'Challa in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, and most recently, he starred in the crime drama 21 Bridges and Spike Lee's war drama Da 5 Bloods. He also completed filming on the upcoming Netflix film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. which is based on August Wilson's play and is expected to be Boseman's final film appearance.

Boseman was also set to return for a Black Panther sequel, which Disney had originally scheduled to hit theaters in May 2022 but had not yet begun filming. (He was also expected to lend his voice to the animated Disney+ Marvel series What If...?, and it's unclear whether he completed recording before his death.) "Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with Chadwick Boseman's family," Marvel Studios said in a statement on Twitter. "Your legacy will live on forever."

Speaking to EW in November 2019, Boseman said he always relished the chance to hone his skills and try new creative challenges, whether he was leading a major film like Black Panther or filming a smaller but still powerful role in a film like in Da 5 Bloods.

"I want to keep people guessing," he said. "I want to make sure they don't see me coming."

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