Tom Hanks, Jay Leno, Holly Robinson Peete, Loretta Devine and Stevie Wonder were among those who helped celebrate the life of Michael Clarke Duncan during a memorial service.
The nearly four-hour service in Los Angeles was marked by speeches, rousing gospel performances and photos of the always-smiling star of The Green Mile.
Hanks and talk show host Leno shared stories about the star and actress Peete talked about meeting Duncan while he was still a celebrity bodyguard. Devine spoke of how Duncan would do anything for a laugh.
Wonder appeared via video, solemnly playing piano and singing the opening verses of his life-affirming song As for the man he called “a gentle giant”.
Duncan died on September 3 at 54, having never fully recovered from a heart attack in July. His doctor was among the speakers at the service at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles.
Former reality TV star the Rev Omarosa Manigault, who was Duncan’s fiancee, also attended along with Duncan’s mother, sister and nephews.
Backed by a gospel choir, singers Angie Stone, Kelly Price, Kenny Lattimore and Abraham McDonald lent their voices to the private funeral. State Assemblyman Mike Davis and Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson also attended, with the council declaring yesterday as “Michael Clarke Duncan Day”.
Leno said he was touched by the actor’s positivity and lack of cynicism.
“Just to see such a pure heart and pure kindness, and to see it taken so early,” the comedian said, his voice cracking. “There are no sadder words than what might have been.”
Leno said Duncan’s sunny smile “grew another millimeter on each end” when he met Manigault. The two had planned to marry in December.
Frank Darabont, director of The Green Mile, called Duncan “a fierce warrior” and “the gentlest of souls”.
“No-one had a more positive spirit than Michael Clarke Duncan,” he said.
Darabont also read a letter from Stephen King, who wrote The Green Mile.
“No-one has ever done a character I wrote more justice,” the author wrote.
Hanks teased his late co-star about his penmanship, which he described as “loopy and huge”.
“It looks like a 12-year-old girl who loves horses wrote it,” Hanks said.
He went on to tell a story of a young Duncan on the South Side of Chicago who one day decided he would join a gang. When he came home and told his mother, she whacked him on the head with a frying pan – a sizzling pork chop still inside - and told him to remove himself from the gang immediately.
Hanks impersonated the 6ft 5in 300lb deep-voiced Duncan sheepishly explaining to his fellow gang members that his mother would not let him be in a gang.
“If it wasn’t for that mama and the frying pan with a pork chop, we would not be here today celebrating the life of Michael Clarke Duncan,” Hanks said.
Other speakers included actors David Boreanaz and Geoff Stults, and Bones creator Hart Hanson.
The Rev Dr Beecher Hicks delivered the eulogy, closing by saying to Manigault: “Don’t fret, he’s in heaven.”