kunc-header-1440x90.png
Our Story Happens Here
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Chadwick Boseman, 'Black Panther' Star, Dies Of Cancer At 43

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Chadwick Boseman has died. The actor who played the Black Panther, Jackie Robinson and other heroes was 43 and died four years after being diagnosed with colon cancer.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: On the big screen, Chadwick Boseman's character ruled the fictitious African country Wakanda. He played the Marvel superhero T'Challa, also known as the Black Panther.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER")

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) The Black Panther has been a protector of Wakanda for generations. Now it is time to show the outside world who we are.

DEL BARCO: The Black Panther was seemingly invincible, fighting off enemies in his technologically advanced, bulletproof panthersuit that absorbed energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER")

BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) Wakanda forever.

DEL BARCO: Boseman once told late-night host Stephen Colbert that he called on his own ancestral heritage to play the role.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

BOSEMAN: What we had to do is ground it in a authenticity that is African. So for me, it was like, well, I am Yoruba.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Your people came from the Yoruba people?

BOSEMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah; also found out that I'm Limba from Sierra Leone.

DEL BARCO: Chadwick Boseman was born and raised in South Carolina, graduated from Howard University and attended the British American Drama Academy at Oxford. He began acting in the theater in New York and landed a gig on a soap opera playing a young Black man with a drug-addicted mother and absent father who was lured into gang life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOSEMAN: There was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character, barely a glimpse of hope.

DEL BARCO: After challenging the producers about the role, he was fired. That's the story Boseman told during his commencement speech at his alma mater, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree. He urged the Howard University graduates to pursue their own destinies, no matter the challenges.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOSEMAN: Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.

DEL BARCO: On television and in films, Boseman also played many real-life Black heroes - baseball player Jackie Robinson, NFL Hall of Famer Floyd Little, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and James Brown, the godfather of soul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GET ON UP")

BOSEMAN: (As James Brown, singing) Soul power, we got to have it, soul power. We want it, soul power. You got to get down, down, down.

DEL BARCO: In the Spike Lee joint "Da 5 Bloods," he played Vietnam War commander "Stormin Normin" Holloway.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DA 5 BLOODS")

BOSEMAN: (As Stormin Normin Holloway) We been dying for this country from the very git.

DEL BARCO: Most recently, he finished filming the upcoming Netflix film "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." In a tweet, Boseman's family says he filmed many of those roles during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. A "Black Panther" sequel was in the works, so Boseman's death came as a surprise to many.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, said in a statement, quote, "he was our T'Challa, our Black Panther and our dear friend." Feige wrote, each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy. And each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible.

On Twitter and Instagram, friends poured out condolences. Angela Bassett, who played the Black Panther's mother, paid tribute to her friend she called a beautiful spirit, a consummate artist, a soulful brother. Fellow "Avenger" actor Mark Ruffalo said it was the highest honor getting to work with him. And actress Kerry Washington called him a true king.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKANDA")

BAABA MAAL: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.