Judging from the various responses that I’ve seen on social media and in the news, the death of Chadwick Boseman isn’t just sad, but also a complete shock to everyone. The actor — best known for his performance as Black Panther in the Marvel movies — died after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old.
Here’s the official statement that was posted to his social media accounts:
It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it 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. 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. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther. He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side. The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.
I find it staggering to think that Boseman starred in Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame as well as Marshall, 21 Bridges, and Da 5 Bloods all while undergoing cancer treatment — and he never went public with his struggle. Which, in my book, is a testament to his strength, perseverance, and dignity.
As the first Marvel movie made by a black director and featuring a predominantly black cast, Black Panther received accolades for its celebration of black culture, for tackling complex issues like race and colonialism, and for — in the words of Jamil Smith — “serving a black audience that has long gone underrepresented” in Hollywood and pop culture. (In addition to critical acclaim, it pulled in $1.3 billion at the box office, making it 2018’s second highest-grossing film.) Boseman in particular was praised for his inspiring performance as King T’Challa, who is thrust into power and must protect his beloved Wakanda while wrestling with revelations about his own family’s past.
Tributes to Boseman have come pouring in from fans, co-stars, and others. Don Cheadle tweeted “i will miss you, birthday brother. you were always light and love to me” and Mark Ruffalo tweeted “Brother, you were one of the all time greats and your greatness was only beginning.” Captain America himself, Chris Evans, described Boseman as “a deeply committed and constantly curious artist” while Zoe Saldana lamented the effect of Boseman’s death on her kids. Writer/director Jordan Peele called Boseman’s death “a crushing blow” and Kerry Washington called him “a warrior of light til the very end.”
People have been retweeting photos that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital posted back in 2018 of Boseman visiting their young patients; he would’ve been battling cancer himself at that time and yet, you’d never know that from the way he’s interacting with the kids. And Alex Abad-Santos noted that Boseman died on Jack Kirby’s birthday; Kirby created the Black Panther character along with Stan Lee back in 1966.
Boseman’s death feels particularly devastating because of what he — along with the rest of the film’s cast and crew — achieved with Black Panther. It’s such a powerful, vibrant, and beautiful film, and I say that as a white man; I can only imagine the immense impact that it had, and continues to have, on black audiences.
Suffice to say, I was looking forward to seeing more of T’Challa’s reign and Black Panther’s adventures. Black Panther 2 was scheduled for a May 6, 2022 release with Ryan Coogler returning as writer and director. But Chadwick Boseman was Black Panther; I simply cannot imagine any other actor stepping into that role and filling it so completely, so nobly.
With Chadwick Boseman’s death, the world has lost an icon, a cinematic presence, and a good man.