The tragic news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing sent shockwaves throughout Hollywood and homes across the world. Known for his portrayals of Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, Boseman’s most iconic role to date was arguably that of King T’Challa in Marvel Studios’ Captain America: Civil War and the runaway hit Black Panther. To many, Boseman was a superhero both on-screen and off — a fact made all the more heart-wrenching once the world realized that the 43-year-old had been fighting a secret battle for his health during the creation of many of the roles that cemented his stardom.
It was later revealed that the actor died of colon cancer, for which he received a diagnosis four years ago. Although one in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, the cancer that caused Boseman’s death occurs at a 30% higher rate in men than women across all races. However, Black individuals have the highest rates of colon cancer among any ethnic group nationwide. According to the American Cancer Society’s scientific director of surveillance research, Rebecca L. Siegel, Black people in the U.S. are roughly 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die than individuals of other races. Just this year, Siegel explained, the ACS predicts there will be 50,000 deaths from colon cancer across the country.
Boseman’s story has put a spotlight on colon cancer, but the star was notoriously guarded about his private life. Very few people have any idea that Boseman was sick — a move which, unfortunately, caused a lot of public speculation regarding obvious changes in the actor’s appearance. Back in April, after Boseman posted an IGTV video to his Instagram account, some fans seized the opportunity to mock the actor for his drastic physical transformation. There were even those who made comments that seemed to make light of substance abuse disorders, despite the fact that Boseman had no known history of addiction. Early recovery from addiction is a time of high relapse rates, which fans know all too well, given the number of Hollywood deaths that have involved addiction. However, that didn’t stop some from making Boseman the butt of the joke with comments like “Crack Panther” and “Crackanda Forever.”
In retrospect, many of these fans were publicly taken to task online by those who remembered those disrespectful reactions. Some even called out the role that tabloids and other media played in poking fun at Boseman’s haggard appearance. As was pointed out, it’s clear that no one knows what someone else is going through — and commenting on someone’s weight is never appropriate, according to fans.
In reality, not even some of Boseman’s associates were aware of his diagnosis. In a public statement made by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, he noted: “Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness. After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days. What an incredible mark he’s left for us.”
Many didn’t realize that Boseman had also married his fiance, Taylor Simone Ledward, prior to his death. While it isn’t known exactly when the pair tied the knot, it’s thought that they married a few months before the actor’s death — making theirs one of the approximate 2.4 million weddings that take place each year. The couple has ties going back to 2015, and Ledward was by Boseman’s side at the time of his passing.
Paying homage to Boseman, stars like Angela Bassett, Jordan Peele, Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and countless others took to social media to share their shock and heartbreak. In an effort to honor the late actor, ABC aired a commercial-free showing of Black Panther, followed by a special program, Chadwick Boseman: A Tribute for a King.
In a confirmation of Boseman’s passing made by his family, his loved ones expressed their “immeasurable grief,” noting that “it was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.” It’s clear that the phrase, “Wakanda Forever,” has taken on a whole new meaning in light of this great loss.