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Character actor Michael Clarke Duncan dies

LOS ANGELES -- Michael Clarke Duncan, the hulking, prolific character actor whose dozens of films included an Oscar-nominated performance as a death row inmate in "The Green Mile" and other box office hits such as "Armageddon," "Planet of the Apes" and "Kung Fu Panda," is dead at age 54.

Duncan died yesterday in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was being treated for a heart attack, said his fiancee, reality TV personality the Rev. Omarosa Manigault, in a statement issued by publicist Joy Fehily.

The muscular, 6-foot-4 Duncan, a former bodyguard who turned to acting in his 30s, "suffered a myocardial infarction on July 13 and never fully recovered," the statement said.

Duncan had appeared in the spring in a video for PETA, the animal rights organization, in which he spoke of how much better he felt since becoming a vegetarian three years earlier.

"I cleared out my refrigerator, about $5,000 worth of meat," he said. "I'm a lot healthier than I was when I was eating meat."

Duncan had a handful of minor roles before "The Green Mile" brought him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. The 1999 film, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, starred Tom Hanks as a corrections officer at a penitentiary in the 1930s. Duncan played John Coffey, a convicted murderer with a surprisingly gentle demeanor and extraordinary healing powers.

His performance caught on and he became a Hollywood favorite, appearing in several films a year. Bruce Willis had recommended him for "The Green Mile" after they appeared together in "Armageddon." Duncan and Willis also worked in "Breakfast of Champions," "The Whole Nine Yards" and "Sin City."

Born in Chicago in 1957, Duncan was raised by a single mother whose resistance to his playing football led to his desire to become an actor. He dropped out of Alcorn State University and worked as a ditch digger and bouncer to support her when she became ill. In his mid-20s, he became a bodyguard in Los Angeles for Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and others. The murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G., by whom Duncan had been hired, led him to pursue acting full-time.

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