Chadwick Boseman, best known for playing Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, has died after a battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old.
A statement posted to the actor’s social media by his family said Boseman had been battling the disease since 2016, when he was diagnosed with stage three. It later developed to stage four, they said.
Boseman never publicly discussed his diagnosis.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you so many of the films you have come to love so much,” the family’s statement reads.
Boseman died at home with his wife and family by his side, they said.
Boseman was previously known for playing baseball legend Jackie Robinson and music pioneer James Brown in the biographical films 42 and Get On Up, respectively, before being cast as Black Panther — the first African American superhero to get his own Marvel film.
The 2018 film became one of Marvel’s biggest successes, grossing over US$1.3 billion, and is the highest grossing film in the MCU after the four Avengers instalments. The latter two of those films also featured Boseman.
The success of Black Panther went beyond box office grosses. The “Wakanda Forever” salute used repeatedly by Boseman and his costars in the film’s Afrofuturistic society quickly became a solidarity symbol for the worldwide Black community. Some audiences wore African attire to screenings and erupted in celebratory dances and chants in movie theatre lobbies and parking lots.
That cultural significance propelled the film to a Best Picture Oscar nomination, the only Marvel entry to date to earn that achievement.
Boseman was slated to appear in a sequel to Black Panther, which is still in development. He was recently seen in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods on Netflix.
The family’s statement says Boseman acted in all those films and more “during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy” treatments.
Born in South Carolina, Boseman graduated from Howard University in 2000 and had small roles in television before his first star turn in 2013, when he portrayed Jackie Robinson in 42.
Boseman died on a day that Major League Baseball was celebrating Jackie Robinson Day.
Tributes immediately began pouring in for Boseman on social media. Many of them pointed to Boseman’s charity work and his outspoken support for the Black Lives Matter movement, along with other political causes.
A segment from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where people spoke about the impact Black Panther had on themselves and the Black community — not realizing Boseman was actually listening until he appeared from behind a poster for the film — quickly made the rounds on social media.
The Black Lives Matter movement called Boseman’s death “beyond painful.”
U.S. Democratic senator and vice-presidential hopeful Kamala Harris shared a picture of her and Boseman hugging at an immigration event, calling him her friend and fellow “Bison,” the nickname given to alumni of Howard University. She said he was “brilliant, kind, learned, and humble.”
“He left too early but his life made a difference,” Harris wrote while sending condolences to Boseman’s family.
Harris’ running mate, presidential hopeful Joe Biden, said Boseman left behind a legacy that “inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even super heroes.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama recounted when Boseman went to the White House to work with children when he was playing Jackie Robinson.
“You could tell right away that he was blessed,” he wrote. “To be young, gifted and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do that all while in pain — what a use of his years.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama, called Boseman a “hero.”
“Only Chadwick could embody Jackie Rovinson, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa,” she wrote in a tweet. “He, too, knew what it meant to persevere. To summon real strength. And he belongs with them as a hero–for Black kids and for all our kids.”
“There’s no better gift to give our world,” she continued.
“This is a crushing blow” actor and director Jordan Peele said on Twitter.
Actress and writer Issa Rae simply said of the news, “This broke me.”
Comedian Wanda Sykes echoed Rae’s comments.
“Hard to hear about this,” actor Dwayne Johnson posted. “Rest in love, brother. Thank you for shining your light and sharing your talent with the world. My love and strength to your family.”
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences paid tribute to the actor’s “strength and light” on screen, calling his death “an immeasurable loss.”
Marvel Studios posted its own tribute: “Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with Chadwick Boseman’s family. Your legacy will live on forever.”
Other Marvel stars spoke about their love for their co-star.
Angela Bassett, who played King T’Challa’s mother in Black Panther, shared a story on Instagram from when she received an honorary degree from Howard University in 2000. Boseman, she said, was the student assigned to escort her that day.
“I am honoured that we enjoyed that full circle experience,” she wrote. “This young man’s dedication was awe-inspiring, his smile contagious, his talent unreal.”
“What a man, and what an immense talent,” wrote actor Mark Ruffalo, who portrayed the Hulk in the MCU films. “Brother, you were one of the all time greats and your greatness was only beginning. Lord love ya. Rest in power, King.”
“Chadwick was someone who radiated power and peace,” Captain Marvel star Brie Larson said in a statement. “Who stood up for much more than himself. Who took the time to really see how you were doing and gave words of encouragement when you felt unsure.
“I’m honoured to have the memories I have. The conversations, the laughter. My heart is with you and your family. You will be missed and never forgotten.”
With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson and the Associated Press