News of actor Michael Clarke Duncan’s death at 54 was a shock. News of another African American man in the “business” dying before 60, was not. Duncan suffered a heart attack in July and never really recovered to full speed – though he had lost weight, and began a vegetarian diet. No, the characteristic working class actor did what many Black men do when they get to a certain tax bracket; work so hard so their families and themselves never have to experience being poor again. Will Smith mentioned that even after achieving über financial success, he still worried about money. The late comedian Bernie Mac was “wrapping it up” to take break only to have pneumonia claim his life (as he was managing sarcoidosis) – he was 50. TV One’s show “Unsung” which chronicles the lives of music entertainers whom the so-called Black community revered, recently featured the life of the late Gerald Levert who by his father’s (Eddie Levert of the O’Jays) own admission said that his son for all intents and purposes was a workaholic. His death was attributed to a mix of pain relieving and psychotropic medications: at the time of his death, he was 40. Michael Jackson was 50. A trend indeed.
The stereotype of Black men being lazy, freeloading and good for nothings seems to be the burden carried by all Black men. Looked to as the savior of the family, particularly if their own fathers were unable or unwilling to provide, failure was not an option. Subliminally the “John Henry” syndrome; outworking the machine – dying from the process has infilitrated their psyche. Hopefully Black men will realize that at some point it’s OK to take a pause, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. But for some it’s a dream deferred; and they will continue to work to the grave – even if how they are working puts them there.
R.I.P. Michael Clarke Duncan