Denzel Washington 'Wondered If Something Was Wrong' with Chadwick Boseman's Health Before His Death

"We had no idea, and it was nobody's business," Denzel Washington recalled of Chadwick Boseman's declining health while making Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Denzel Washington, Chadwick Boseman
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images (2)

Denzel Washington is remembering working with Chadwick Boseman on the late actor's final film role.

Washington, 67, produced the Oscar-winning 2020 Netflix movie Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which also starred Viola Davis. Speaking with Variety for the magazine's latest cover story, Washington admits he noticed Boseman's declining health during production.

The Black Panther star died of colon cancer on Aug. 28, 2020, at age 43. He had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016 and had battled it privately for four years as it progressed to stage IV.

"A man among men. He suffered quietly. He made the movie, and nobody knew. I didn't know," said Washington. "He never said a peep about it. He just did his job."

"I wondered if something was wrong because he seemed weak or tired sometimes," the actor/director added. "We had no idea, and it was nobody's business. Good for him, keeping it to himself."

Washington once quietly paid for Boseman and several of his Howard University classmates to attend an acting program at England's Oxford University. In 2019, Boseman shared the full story while honoring Washington before the Malcolm X actor accepted the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Many of you already know the story that Mr. Washington, when asked by Phylicia Rashad to join her in assisting nine theater students from Howard University who had been accepted to a summer acting program at the British Academy of Dramatic Acting in Oxford, gracefully and privately agreed to contribute," Boseman said in June 2019.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. David Lee/Netflix

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

"As fate would have it, I was one of the students that he paid for," he continued at the time. "Imagine receiving the letter that your tuition for that summer was paid for and that your benefactor was none other than the dopest actor on the planet. ... There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington."

RELATED VIDEO: Anthony Hopkins Honors Chadwick Boseman in Belated Oscars Speech: He Was 'Taken from Us Far Too Early'

On the Oscars red carpet a year before that, Boseman opened up about the moment when he finally got a chance to thank Washington for his support.

"It was a fun conversation. The first thing he said was, 'You owe me money! I came to collect!' " Boseman recalled to ABC's Michael Strahan at the time. "It was so deep, I can't even go into it right now. We sort of just talked about what's been happening, what's about to happen."

In a statement after Boseman's death, Washington honored the actor, saying, "He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career. God bless Chadwick Boseman."

Related Articles