‘Black Panther’ Star Chadwick Boseman Dies of Cancer at 43


The actor also played groundbreaking figures like James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall.

The actor Chadwick Boseman in 2018.
The actor Chadwick Boseman in 2018.Credit...Axel Koester for The New York Times

Chadwick Boseman, who found fame as the star of the groundbreaking film “Black Panther” and who also portrayed pioneering Black figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, died on Friday. He was 43.

A statement posted on his Instagram account said he learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer and that it had progressed to Stage 4. It said he died in his home with his wife and family by his side, though it did not say where he lived.

“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.”

News of Mr. Boseman’s death elicited shock and grief among many prominent figures in the arts and civic life. Martin Luther King III, a human rights activist and the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said that Mr. Boseman had “brought history to life on the silver screen” in his portrayals of Black leaders.

Oprah Winfrey wrote on Twitter that Mr. Boseman was “a gentle gifted SOUL.”

“Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo,” she wrote. “The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.”

Mr. Boseman portrayed the first Black player in Major League Baseball, Jackie Robinson, in “42” (2013); the sizzling soul singer James Brown in “Get On Up” (2014); and the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, in “Marshall” (2017).

But he was best known for his role as T’Challa, or the Black Panther, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda in the 2018 Marvel superhero movie “Black Panther.”

ImageMr. Boseman in "Black Panther." It was the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and a majority Black cast.
Mr. Boseman in "Black Panther." It was the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and a majority Black cast.Credit...Marvel Studios/Disney, via Associated Press

That film was a cultural touchstone. It was the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist; the first to star a primarily Black cast; and in Ryan Coogler, the first to employ a Black writer and director.

“Black Panther” represented a moment of hope, pride and empowerment for African-American moviegoers, many of whom planned special outings to see it and came dressed in African-inspired clothing and accessories.

Wakanda was powered by a mystery metal, vibranium, and had evaded the historical traumas endured by much of the rest of Africa, freeing it from the ravages of colonialism and postcolonialism. The phrase “Wakanda forever” became a hashtag and rallying cry.

The statement on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said it was “the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’”

Brian Helgeland, the writer and director of “42,” which gave Mr. Boseman his breakout role, said that Mr. Boseman had reminded him of sturdy, self-assured icons of 1970s virility, like Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood.

“It’s the way he carries himself, his stillness — you just have that feeling that you’re around a strong person,” Mr. Helgeland said. “There’s a scene in the movie where Robinson’s teammate, Pee Wee Reese, puts his arm around him as a kind of show of solidarity. But Chad flips it on its head. He plays it like, ‘I’m doing fine, I’m tough as nails, but go ahead and put your arm around me if it makes you feel better.’ I think that’s who Chad is as a person.”

Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on Nov. 29, 1976, in Anderson, S.C., the youngest of three boys. His mother, Carolyn, was a nurse; his father, Leroy, worked for an agricultural conglomerate and had a side business as an upholsterer.

“I saw him work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts,” Mr. Boseman told The New York Times last year. “Whenever I work a particularly hard week, I think of him.”

His closest role models were his two brothers: Derrick, the eldest, a preacher in Tennessee; and Kevin, a dancer who has performed with the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey troupes and toured with the stage adaptation of “The Lion King.”

In high school, Mr. Boseman was a serious basketball player but turned to storytelling after a friend and teammate was shot and killed. He processed his emotions by writing what he eventually realized was a play. When it was time to consider colleges, he chose an arts program at Howard University in Washington, with a dream of becoming a director.

In the movie “42,” Mr. Boseman played Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball.Credit...D. Stevens/Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press

At Howard, he took an acting class with the Tony Award-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad, who helped him get into an elite theater program at the University of Oxford in England, an adventure that he later learned had been financed by a friend of hers, Denzel Washington.

To earn money, Mr. Boseman taught acting to students at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

After college, he moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he spent his days in coffee shops — playing chess and writing plays to direct, some of which were influenced by hip-hop and pan-African theology.

He landed one-off television roles in “Law & Order,” “CSI: NY” and “Cold Case,” and eventually booked a recurring role in the 2007-9 ABC Family series “Lincoln Heights.”

The show was filmed in Los Angeles and afforded Mr. Boseman his first real taste of Hollywood.

“Before that, I had just wanted to be an artist in New York,” he said. “I didn’t understand that coming to L.A. and trying to be a film actor was a completely different thing.”

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Reggie Ugwu and Marie Fazio contributed reporting.