Chadwick Boseman kept his four-year battle with cancer a secret from all but an intimate circle of friends and colleagues, to such a degree that even close collaborators like Ryan Coogler and Spike Lee were unaware of his illness. According to the actor’s longtime agent, this was in keeping with Boseman’s longstanding desire to keep his personal life out of the public eye.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Boseman’s agent Michael Greene explained that the decision to keep his health struggles quiet came partly from the actor’s mother, Carolyn. “[She] always taught him not to have people fuss over him,” Greene said. “He also felt in this business that people trip out about things, and he was a very, very private person.”
Boseman was close to both of his parents throughout his career; Boseman’s father Leroy visited the sets of the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and Black Panther. “It’s an experience where if you have your mom and dad with you, you want them to experience this thing,” Boseman told BET at the time of the Marvel film’s release. “It’s something that connects you to who you are. This is a family experience. It’s a family movie.”
Greene was one of the few people to be aware of Boseman’s illness before his death of complications from cancer at age 43. The actor continued to work while undergoing treatment, which sometimes led to struggles on set; Greene said that Boseman “was really in hard-core pain” while working on Netflix’s upcoming film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Nevertheless, he remained committed to the project, as Boseman “felt that being able to be with [costar] Denzel [Washington] and to launch this cycle of [playwright] August Wilson at Netflix was so exciting to him,” according to Greene.
Boseman’s death triggered an outpouring of grief throughout the industry, with many of his collaborators paying tribute on social media. Ma Rainey, which is believed to be his final film, will be released on Netflix this fall.