Actor Chadwick Boseman, the actor who brought the iconic Marvel superhero Black Panther to life on the big screen, has died of cancer at age 43. Boseman's family shared a statement on his Twitter account, writing that the actor was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer four years ago, that he worked on many of his films during and between chemotherapy and surgeries, and that he died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.
While Boseman's legacy will be headlined with his performance as T'Challa, the King of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the actor made a name for himself before he donned Black Panther's suit by portraying multiple larger-than-life figures. Whether it was Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, or Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, Boseman brought iconic men from Black history to the big screen, personified them, humanized them, and made it all look effortless.
"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," Marvel chief Kevin Feige said in a statement. "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."
When he took on the mantle of Black Panther, he inspired millions of young children who had never seen a superhero who looked like them stand at the forefront of a major studio superhero movie. Boseman played T'Challa in three out of five of Marvel's biggest films, including Avengers: Endgame, which is the highest-grossing film of all time (without adjusting for inflation). Boseman's family called it the honor of his life to play the iconic character, and it was a dream the actor chased for most of his life.
"I can remember several times writing in my journals, 'That would be a cool thing to see in Black Panther' – ideas from real life, from real history, or real archaeology or architecture," the actor toldThe Los Angeles Times. "The projects that I end up doing, that I want to be involved with in any way, have always been projects that will be impactful, for the most part, to my people — to Black people...To see Black people in ways which you have not seen them before. So Black Panther was on my radar, and in my dreams."
Born in Anderson, South Carolina and raised in the southern United States, Boseman faced racism growing up that inspired him to take on roles that would make a difference, telling NPR in 2017, "I know what it is to ride to school and have Confederate flags flying from trucks in front of me and behind me, to see a parking lot full of people with Confederate flags and know what that means. I've been stopped by police for no reason. I've been called 'boy' and 'n—' and everything else that you could imagine...And so I understand when it is to exist in that space and find your manhood. And so I don't think that that is a thing that has gone completely foreign to our existence right now. So part of my, I guess, ability to face it is because I faced it. I failed at facing it. I get the opportunity in playing the character to relive those things and do things a different way."
The actor ventured to Washington D.C. in the late '90s to study directing at Howard University. It was there he met Phylicia Rashad, who became his mentor helped him get accepted to a summer program at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, which was quietly paid for by Denzel Washington. Boseman spoke about how that program put him on the path to playing T'Challa during an American Film Institute tribute to Washington in 2019, acknowledging how his hero helped pave the way for Boseman himself becoming a hero to so many.
The indelible imprint that Boseman has left on pop culture, and the world at large, is made more awe-inspiring in light of the fact he took on the biggest roles of his career while also receiving treatment for cancer. The statement from his family confirming his death revealed that the actor had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 and died four years later after the disease had 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 reads. "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."
Boseman will not only be remembered as a superhero -- both on and off the screen -- but as a remarkable talent who used his gifts to speak truth to power and to make the world better, like the icons he played in film.
"They're sort of mavericks, taste-makers, trendsetter, setting precedents," Boseman told The L.A. Times about his biographic roles. "As far as who those people are, they're leaders...Am I like that? I'm just playing them. That's for somebody else to really explore, but I'm incredibly blessed to be able to do that. I know that that's not a normal thing for this industry, and hopefully it helps to change that fact. If it does, then you can put me in that category."