Michael Clarke Duncan was a man who believed in dreams.
The key to him was he didn't just sit at home and dream them. He lived them. He made them happen. The guy literally crawled out of a ditch and became a big Hollywood star.
It wasn't just a great story. It was a true one.
The first time we talked was when the guy they called Big Mike was dreaming of a career in the movies.
All the other guys who worked with him on his crew digging ditches for People's Gas Company in Chicago gave him a hard time about it.
A real hard time.
"They tease me all the time. They call me Hollywood Mike. They say I'm too big for my britches," Duncan said. "I can't help it. I was raised by a single mother and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I was told that anything IS possible."
As it turned out, his mother was right.
His discovery was one for the record books. He decided to moonlight as a bouncer and a guard at some clubs on Chicago's South Side. That's where he met one of the producers of "Beauty Shop" who hired him to do personal security.
The rest was history.
Duncan was literally lifted out of those ditches he worked in to work first as a bodyguard for Jamie Foxx and Will Smith. Bruce Willis took a liking to him (and who wouldn't) and put him in the film "Armageddon."
It was Willis who suggested Duncan for his Oscar nominated role in 1999's "The Green Mile" as a miracle man convict named John Coffey.
I'll never forget that press junket in Los Angeles at the Century City Hotel. Tom Hanks was the biggest movie star alive in those days, but somehow he seemed to take a backseat to the big guy.
By now, he was called Big Mike.
And Big Mike was also Shy Mike. With his head dipped a bit, he was the gentle giant during our interview. Unassuming with absolutely no ego, Duncan said, "I was just glad to be asked to do something like be in a big movie. Of course, I was worried if I could do it. Ironic that the film is about miracles." (Ironic? Not really.)
He did it better than some who had been acting for decades.
The fallout wasn't that Big Mike became some pain in the butt movie star. This was still the guy who gave five bucks to anyone in the street who recognized him and could say all three of his names. He was friendly, warm, and thrilled to talk to you.
In those post-Mile years, we talked for each one of his movies.
He never changed.
The only thing that bothered him was his health. Repeatedly, we discussed the idea that he was on a diet and struggling to lose the weight. He even gave me his favorite skinny burger recipes and told me his doc said that in midlife he had to give up the junk food. He did it and got much thinner. Big Mike loved a challenge.
We talked about how the big guy had such a soft side. And it was evident when one of his five cats would rub up against him and that deep voice would start with the baby talk and then sound embarrassed. You have to love a hulk who can't resist purring to a ten pound tabby.
Was this the same guy who had a blue belt in Brazillian JuJutsu? Was it the same guy whose face connected with the Rock's elbow during a fight scene? (I felt sorry for The Rock's arm).
The best part of talking with Duncan was that deep, rich laugh that warmed your bones. He still had a lot of that ditch digger in him although he was living a far loftier life. The key was he really appreciated what had happened to him. He honored it because he was a bit in awe of it.
Again and again, I'd ask him if he even could believe his good fortune.
Again and again, he would tell me that it wasn't just about dreaming, but about going the extra mile. "I just wouldn't take no for an answer. I got out there. I wasn't going to dig ditches for the rest of my life. That just wasn't me. It wasn't what my mama wanted for me."
When I heard that the big guy was hospitalized on July 13 after suffering cardiac arrest, my own heart felt heavy. I've never been a big fan of his fiancée Omarosa, but that turned around when I read about how she gave him CPR and resuscitated him. Go Omarosa! Re-evaluating you.
Michael Clarke Duncan died yesterday.
Here's what I remember the most about him: I interviewed him the first time the very same day I interviewed the late, amazing comic-actor Bernie Mac.
Bernie told me about how he used to deliver Wonder Bread. One cold winter day, he pulled the truck to the side of the road, called his wife crying and said that he couldn't do it anymore. By the way, they couldn't afford the electric bill that month and it was December and 10 below zero, but he was quitting his job. Why? He had a dream. But it was more than a dream. He was putting it in motion.
His destiny was to become a comic.
Michael Clark Duncan stepped out of the ditches knowing that his destiny was something much bigger.
I will miss both of them, but one question remains at any age? What is your dream? Put it into motion today.
Both died too young. But at age 54, Michael Clarke Duncan could say that he truly lived.