LOS ANGELES — 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 nearly four-hour memorial service marked by heartfelt speeches, rousing gospel performances and photos of the always-smiling actor.
Hanks and Leno shared stories about “The Green Mile” star at Monday’s service. Peete talked about meeting Duncan while he was still a celebrity bodyguard. Devine spoke of how the actor 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 Sept. 3 at 54, having never fully recovered from a heart attack in July. His physician, who revealed Duncan used a pacemaker, was among the speakers at the service at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Los Angeles.
Former reality TV star the Rev. Omarosa O. Manigault, who was Duncan’s fiancée, 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 Monday 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, author of “The Green Mile.”
“No one has ever done a character I wrote more justice,” King 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 in the head with a frying pan — a sizzling pork chop still inside — and told him to extract himself from the gang immediately.
Hanks impersonated the 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound, deep-voiced Duncan sheepishly explaining to his fellow gang members that his mom wouldn’t 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. H. Beecher Hicks delivered the eulogy, closing by saying to Manigault: “Don’t fret, he’s in heaven.”
— Associated Press