Two weeks ago, on a quiet Friday evening, as I sat lazily stretched out on my couch, my wife curled up next to me, as she took the plunge into watching 1993’s Coneheads – a movie that she’s never seen and I simply had to introduce her to – my phone buzzed from inside my pocket. I wasn’t much paying much attention to social media that evening, rather having a quiet evening at the homestead watching a childhood favorite. I knew my wife wasn’t fully appreciating the offbeat humor, but there were parts she was laughing riotously.
Then I saw the notification pop up on my locked screen, from the Associated Press. Chadwick Boseman, just 43 years of age, had passed away from colon cancer.
Now, most people, they could care less about an actor passing away. We don’t know them, we’ve never met them, they’re just on the television or in films. But Boseman’s passing was something much more of a shock to me than I had anticipated.
I had to pause the movie, put the remote down, and take a second. My wife looked at me, seeing my jaw was nearly on the floor. I passed along the news with a quiet solemnness. She shared the same shock as I did briefly. And, as we kept thinking of the significance of August 28th, the more this became a heartbreaking moment. The day was the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, a day best remembered by Doctor Martin Luther King Junior’s speech about a dream that’s still not fully realized. The 28th is also Jackie Robinson Day as well, when Major League Baseball honors the iconic ballplayer who broke barriers.
Boseman famously portrayed Robinson in 2012’s 42. In the only words that I can think of about all of this – fuck, man. Because, forever going forward, I’ll see this scene in Avengers: Endgame and just know, he’s up there looking down with this same approving look at all that he touched.
I was on the cusp of turning 36 years old a couple of days from that moment, and Lord knows I struggle thinking about what the next step in life after death is. Worrying about dying isn’t something we should really keep in the front of our minds. COVID-19 changed much of that for many people, however. Myself included. And I know of people who’ve passed away from the pandemic.
But for someone who was such a major influence not just on the screen, but off the screen, to pass away so young from colon cancer? Keeping the diagnosis only to himself and his wife, never telling his peers, nor the gatekeepers at Marvel Studios or any other motion picture house. That’s something I know I couldn’t do. But now, here I sit, fraught with worry and a deep sadness.
I mean, that’s the funny thing about losing someone we look up to without any notice. We take for granted the value in which we saw deep within that person’s character. Look back at someone that you look up to, be them someone in your life or someone who is famous. I was broken when Robin Williams passed away. Stan Lee too. And Lord knows I’m going to be a blubbering mess when Paul McCartney or Elton John move on themselves. What got me last? My 8th grade History teacher. Sure, he touched many lives whilst serving in the military as well as being an educator, but he wasn’t in the spotlight. At all.
Yet, his teachings and wit and quirks all formulated aspects of my own adulthood that I look back upon and can say, that’s why I’m this way! But for every person in our lives who has left his or her mark on our essence, we have a bond to them. You may not think about such things now but, in hindsight, they become more apparent on a more introspective look back at their influence upon you.
Over his career, Boseman had just 35 roles. 42 was his breakout role. Get On Up solidified his screen presence. But from the moment he was cast as T’Challa/Black Panther, he became something evne bigger. 2016’s Message from the King was a Netflix drama that was made better because of his prowess. Marshall too. But most of his final roles were strictly for Marvel Studios, minus Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. And you know what people saw in his portrayals?
They saw a man who was true to the people he played in films. He was honest. Respectable. Gracious. A voice that remained firm but spoke with such a truthfulness and affirmation. A man of virtue and integrity. Boseman spoke much to aiding children dealing with cancer when, unbeknownst to those who loved and adored him, he fought the very same battle. Though he struggled, he remained steadfast to ensure that all around him were taken care of. Boseman was nowhere close to be a selfish man but, instead, was more giving than anyone can give him credit.
No, life isn’t fair sometimes. We’ve lost so many icons so young over the years that we tend to forget the indelible mark that he or she lives within us. Boseman made each of his roles count. They spoke to him. Hell, they spoke to us. And, the same manner in which he commanded the screen with virtue and honesty, he was the same way in real life. The stories pouring out about his kindness and generosity continue to ebb across social media. I can’t say that I much understand why someone as God-honest as he was taken so soon. Perhaps he was called for a higher purpose that we cannot fathom.
It’s okay to mourn his passing. Actors come and go, nary a thought on how he or she shaped our own lives. Chadwick Boseman, on the other hand, left such a mark on so many fans out there. This one stings as hard as when we lost Stan Lee. Don’t feel bad grieving. You can cry. Wherever you are up there, I hope that Boseman knows that he left something special for generations. He was a loud voice that wanted to be heard. A role model for children everywhere. And I’m thankful that he too left his own impressions on my very character. #RestInPower indeed, Chadwick. In the words he recited on-screen;
In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead into a green veld where… you can run forever.