Chadwick Boseman, the regal actor who embodied a long-held dream of African-American moviegoers as the star of the groundbreaking superhero film “Black Panther,” died on Friday. He was 43.
A statement posted on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said the actor had learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer, and that it had progressed to Stage 4. His publicist confirmed that he died in his home in Los Angeles, with his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, and family by his side.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you 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.”
Mr. Boseman was a private figure by Hollywood standards and rarely publicized details about his personal life. He found fame relatively late as an actor — he was 35 when he appeared in his first prominent role, as Jackie Robinson in “42” — but made up for lost time with a string of star-making performances in major biopics.
Whether it was James Brown in “Get On Up,” Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” or T’Challa in “Black Panther,” Mr. Boseman’s unfussy versatility and old-fashioned gravitas helped turn him into one of his generation’s most sought-after leading men.
News of his death elicited shock and grief among many prominent figures in the arts world and civic life. Martin Luther King III, a human-rights activist and the eldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said the actor had “brought history to life on the silver screen” in his portrayals of pioneering Black leaders.
The former vice president and current Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. shared a post on Twitter noting that Mr. Boseman had “inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even super heroes.”
Oprah Winfrey, also posting on Twitter, wrote that Mr. Boseman was “a gentle gifted SOUL.”
“Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo,” she added. “The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.”
Mr. Boseman had admired T’Challa and Marvel’s “Black Panther” comics since attending Howard University, where he worked at an African bookstore as an undergraduate.
When the opportunity came to bring the character — and his fictional African homeland, Wakanda — to the big screen, Mr. Boseman embraced the role’s symbolic significance to Black audiences with a statesman’s pride and devotion. He lobbied for the characters to speak in authentic South African accents, and led on-set cast discussions about ancient African symbolism and spirituality.
The film was a cultural sensation — the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and the first to star a majority Black cast. It was near universally praised by critics for its thematic heft and array of dynamic performances from Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett and others.
Audiences were even more enthusiastic, with joyful armies of fans participating in special outings and repeated viewings. Many came to the theater dressed in African-inspired clothing and accessories, often using a greeting from the film, “Wakanda forever,” as a convivial rallying cry.
The fervor helped make “Black Panther” one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, with more than $1.3 billion in earnings globally. Its success represented a moment of hope, pride and empowerment for Black moviegoers around the world. And it marked an inflection point in Hollywood, where decades of discrimination against Black-led films gave way to a new era of increased visibility and opportunity for Black artists.
The statement on Mr. Boseman’s Instagram account said it was “the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’”
How the Walt Disney Company might continue the blockbuster franchise without Mr. Boseman, if at all, was unclear. Although a sequel had been scheduled for release in 2022, filming had yet to begin. On Twitter, fans quickly mounted a campaign demanding that Disney not recast the role. The studio had no comment.
Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on Nov. 29, 1976, in the small city of Anderson, S.C., the youngest of three boys. His mother, Carolyn, was a nurse and his father, Leroy, worked for an agricultural conglomerate and had a side business as an upholsterer.
“I saw him work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts,” Mr. Boseman told The New York Times last year. “Whenever I work a particularly hard week, I think of him.”
It wasn’t an upbringing that suggested a future in Hollywood. Mr. Boseman was flanked by the traditional working-class values of his parents on one side, and an environment shadowed by racism on the other. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2018, he recalled being the target of racial slurs as a child while simply walking down the street.
His older brother Kevin, a dancer who has performed with the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey troupes and toured with the stage adaptation of “The Lion King,” was a guiding light. Mr. Boseman told The New York Times that he first gained the confidence to pursue the arts while attending Kevin’s dance rehearsals.
“He had the resolve to be like, ‘No — I have something; I’m going to do it anyway, right or wrong,’” Mr. Boseman said of following his brother’s example. “And he was right.”
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
In high school, Mr. Boseman was a serious basketball player but turned to storytelling after a friend and teammate was shot and killed. He enrolled at Howard University with the dream of becoming a director.
While taking an acting class there with the Tony Award-winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad, Mr. Boseman and his classmates were accepted to the British American Drama Academy in Oxford. The students couldn’t afford the trip, but Ms. Rashad helped finance it with assistance from a friend and future colleague of Mr. Boseman’s: Denzel Washington.
After graduating, Mr. Boseman moved to New York to work in theater. He wrote and directed several plays, including “Deep Azure” and “Hieroglyphic Graffiti,” many of which were infused with the grammar of hip-hop and pan-African theology. He lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and earned money by teaching acting to students at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
A recurring role in the 2007-9 ABC Family series “Lincoln Heights” brought Mr. Boseman to Los Angeles, where he soon felt the allure of movie stardom.
“Before that, I had just wanted to be an artist in New York,” he said. “I didn’t understand that coming to L.A. and trying to be a film actor was a completely different thing.”
Brian Helgeland, the writer and director of “42,” which gave Mr. Boseman his breakout role, attributed his quick rise in the industry to his striking presence onscreen. Mr. Helgeland said Mr. Boseman reminded him of sturdy icons of 1970s virility, like Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood.
“It’s the way he carries himself, his stillness — you just have that feeling that you’re around a strong person,” Mr. Helgeland said.
After starring in “Black Panther,” Mr. Boseman reprised the role in two “Avengers” films, “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019).
He was developing multiple projects as a screenwriter (he co-wrote an undeveloped script for an international thriller called “Expatriate”) and as a producer (he was a producer and star of the 2019 detective movie “21 Bridges”) for what he hoped would be a fruitful new chapter in his career.
Mr. Boseman continued to take on roles with a sociopolitical edge. He appeared as a Vietnam War hero in the Spike Lee epic “Da 5 Bloods,” released in the spring, and will play a 1920s blues musician in a film adaptation of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” produced by Mr. Washington and Todd Black and due later this year from Netflix.
A lifelong admirer of Muhammad Ali, Mr. Boseman sought to wield his celebrity to advance a greater, moral cause. During this summer’s wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality, he expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and joined other Black entertainers and executives in calling on the industry to cut ties with police departments.
Onscreen and off, he was fueled by a commitment to leave nothing on the table.
“You want to choose a difficult way sometimes,” he said, describing his acting method to The Times last year. “Some days it should be simple, but sometimes you’ve got to take chances.”
Brooks Barnes and Marie Fazio contributed reporting.