On August 28, 2020, actor Chadwick Boseman, famous for playing Black Panther, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown, has passed away after a four-year battle with colon cancer.
It took a while to write this, mainly because I was speechless when I heard the news. Honestly, I still am to an extent. It’s really unbelievable, but the world lost a great actor, who put on tremendous performance after performance and was a class-act. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman passed Friday night at the age of 43, after a four year battle with Stage III colon cancer.
43. No matter how you look at that number, it never stops being unsettling. I’m 30, and I know I’m lucky to have people in my life that are double my age, double Chadwick’s age. Losing a person is never easy, but losing someone so young makes it so much worse.
Then, there is the cancer part. I think, as a society, we typically equate cancer with people on the backend of their lives. We have procedures and tests that are meant to screen and prevent cancer from growing into something that is unmanageable or deadly. But here we are, finding out that Chadwick had been battling colon cancer for the last four years. Colon cancer can be a difficult cancer to deal with. Cancer.net, a site that utilizes patient-approved data received from the American Society of Clinical Oncology, does a good job of outlining the statistical survival rates. The gist of it is this: the sooner you find, the easier it is to treat within a five year period (ranging from 63 – 90%). Otherwise, it can spread, and the survival rate can drastically lower to 14%. This type of cancer is personal to me because my father fought and lost a five-year battle with colon cancer.
I won’t go on too much about my father, because that’s not the point of this article, but I want to talk about it for a frame of reference. My dad was diagnosed at the age of 68, with Stage IV colon cancer that has spread to his liver. Stage IV is the most severe stage, and, over five years, I watched him fight on a daily basis. The chemo alone was a challenge, disrupting his daily routine and limiting his daily activities. The side effects ranged from the constant fatigue to the intense vomiting or worse, and they were present from year one and only got worse towards the end of year five. My father changed, and cancer did that to him. Yet, my dad got it at age 68 and passed at 73. He had lived a long life before, and even during it. Chadwick wasn’t so lucky.
Boseman was diagnosed in 2016, at the age of 39. I was still a thought when my father was 39. Chadwick was becoming a bonafide movie star, on an exponential pace. In 2016, he starred in Captain America: Civil War. I remember sitting in the theaters and watching him on-screen in amazement, as he was arguably one of the best parts of the movie. While I, and the rest of the world, were getting to know Boseman through the lens of an on-screen superhero, Chadwick was being a true superhero.
According to a statement released by his family, Boseman spent the rest of his life pursuing his career while fighting the illness. From the Chicago Sun Times:
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” his family said in the statement. “From ‘Marshall’ to ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ [the upcoming] 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.’ ”
That is wild to think about. Working on a set of a major production is not an easy task. Shooting can require long days of work, resulting in double digit hours per day. Not to mention, film productions are typically ran like sprints: several weeks in a row in order to complete the film in a timely manner. Between Marshall and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, there was at least seven different productions he worked on. Mind-blowing doesn’t even begin to describe that factoid. I’ve seen chemo first-hand. I’ve seen friends with autoimmune diseases get surgery after surgery. The fact that Chadwick was going through all this and still working as an actor? Shit, this man really was a superhero.
This is a time for mourning, but I am writing this because I want to shine a light on how exceptional this man was. He was a HBCU graduate, studied at Oxford, wrote an award-winning play, built a career on portraying era-defining individuals, served as an inspiration for many, was a loving husband, son, and family member. In a world desperate for more unique voices and bright lights, we all suffer from a new-found silence in these dark times.
Here’s to you, Chadwick Boseman. I hope your limited time on this earth will inspire a new generation of artists and individuals to find the strength within themselves to pursue their dreams, live their lives to their fullest, and be the superheroes of their own stories.
Below I put the video of his commencement speech at his alma mater, Howard University, in 2018, two years into his battle with cancer. It nears 40 minutes, but it gives you a glimpse into the warmth Chadwick radiates.
Rest in Power, Mfalme