Only those closest to the charismatic, gifted thespian Chadwick Boseman, knew the full extent of the details surrounding his four-year battle with colon cancer which recently resulted in his death at the age of 43.
But as a number of confirmed accounts reveal, he never allowed his health to interrupt his zest for life, his perseverance to be the best at his craft or his desire to encourage youth who, like him, struggled with life-threatening illnesses.
Thus, the announcement that the South Carolina native and Howard University graduate (Class of 2000) had died Friday, Aug. 28 at his home surrounded by his wife and family, was received with even greater surprise, shocking fans, colleagues and friends alike who had been unaware of the challenges he had endured.
In days to come, Boseman’s name will undoubtedly be added to a list of other Black “superstars” whose untimely departures from this world have each evoked words reminiscent of the phrase, “gone too soon.”
Similar to others whose deaths many lament came before they had realized their fullest potential, including Aaliyah, Tupac, Minnie Riperton, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, Boseman leaves behind a legacy of work that will be remembered for generations to come.
A statement posted on his Twitter account provides reflections from his family.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you so 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.”
“With his role as King T’Challa in the boundary-breaking film ‘Black Panther,’ he became a global icon and an inspiring symbol of Black power. That role was the ‘honor of (Boseman’s) career,’ the statement concluded.
On the campus of Howard University, his beloved alma mater, a makeshift memorial continues to grow larger with each passing day, replete with an array of fresh flowers, stuffed animals, lit candles and messages of sympathy carefully placed in front of the school’s Division of Fine Arts Building.
Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick released a statement on behalf of the school’s thousands of alumni, faculty and staff.
“It is with profound sadness that we mourn the loss of alumnus Chadwick Boseman who passed away [on Friday] evening. His incredible talent will forever be immortalized through his characters and through his own personal journey from student to superhero! Rest in Power, Chadwick!” Frederick said in a much longer, heartfelt statement.
Boseman made the most of his first opportunity at stardom in 2013 with his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in the film “42.” Ironically, word of his death came on the same day during which Major League Baseball [MLB] honored the man who broke the color barrier in “America’s sport” on Jackie Robinson Day – an annual commemoration delayed by several months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
MLB tweeted Friday about Boseman’s unforgettable portrayal of Robinson.
“His transcendent performance in ’42’ will stand the test of time and serve as a powerful vehicle to tell Jackie’s story to audiences for generations to come,” the tweet said.
Boseman first took on the role of T’Challa/Black Panther in his debut performance for Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Captain America: Civil War,” released in 2016. Two years later, in 2018, Black Panther would be featured in a film of his own with Boseman leading the way in the movie that broke box office records.
Prior to his death, Marvel Studios had announced plans for a second movie in the “Black Panther” saga, scheduled for release in May 2022. It remains unclear how Boseman’s death will impact production.
The actor starred in other films in which he contained to portray iconic African Americans of the 20th century including playing James Brown in “Get On Up” and Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.”
Upon his return to his alma mater in 2018 where he gave the commencement speech, he shared with the graduates his reflections about his early days in the industry – taking on minor roles on soap operas and even being fired from one production after expressing his discontent that many of its Black characters seemed to mimic stereotypical descriptions of African Americans.
Sen. Kamala Harris, another Howard alum, said she was heartbroken over Boseman’s death.
“My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble,” she tweeted. “He left too early but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family.”
In his commencement speech, he shared how loss can prepare an individual for greater gains realized in the future.
“As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards,” he said. “I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa,” he said.
“I was riding here and I heard on the radio, somebody called [Howard] Wakanda University. But it has many names, the Mecca, the Hilltop . . . But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here . . .”
“Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill. For some of you, the challenge was actually academics. When you hear the words magna cum laude, cum laude, you know that’s not you. That’s not you. You worked hard. You did your best, but you didn’t make A’s or B’s, sometimes C’s. You never made the dean’s list, but that’s OK. You are here on top of the hill,” he said.
In response, as the world continues to mourn his death, only one phrase seems appropriate: “Wakanda Forever!”