Throughout our lives, countless people come and go – some barely make an impression, while others completely change our trajectory. Chadwick Boseman was a young college student studying directing at Howard University when one man quietly slipped in and out of his life, unknowingly influencing everything that would come after. Though Boseman was pursuing directing, Howard’s program required him to take acting classes at some point during his college career.
Boseman’s teacher and Cosby Show star Phylicia Rashad recognized his talent and suggested he take an acting course over the summer at Oxford. This was an exciting but unattainable prospect for Chadwick Boseman, as he couldn’t afford to enroll in Oxford’s program. Confident in Boseman’s abilities and undeterred by the roadblock, Rashad reached out to a friend for help. In a pivotal moment that would change Boseman’s entire life, Rashad’s generous friend agreed to cover the cost of tuition.
In a 2018 interview with Jimmy Fallon, Chadwick Boseman recalled the mind-blowing moment he realized just who funded his acting program at Oxford. Boseman told Fallon, “I’ve basically been holding this secret my whole career. When I came back, I got a beneficiary letter and it said Denzel Washington paid for you.” In the video, we hear the audience audibly gasp as soon as Boseman drops the surprising news to which he responds, laughing, “that’s what I did!”
“There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington,” Boseman said at the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award, in a tribute to the influential actor.
It wasn’t until 2018 that Chadwick Boseman finally got to meet the quietly generous man who changed his life. At the New York Black Panther premiere, Denzel Washington and Chadwick Boseman had the most endearing exchange imaginable – after telling Washington about the fateful acting course he so generously covered, Washington teased, “Oh, so that’s why I’m here – you owe me money! I came to collect!”
The two talented actors’ connection ran deep, even before Washington was aware of it. In Boseman’s final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Washington was a producer. In a storybook conclusion to the pair’s long history, the wide-eyed college student turned award-winning actor stood next to Washington – not as a fan, but as a peer. Now, two years after their first in-person meeting and many more years after the day Denzel Washington changed the course of Chadwick Boseman’s life, Washington mourned the young star’s death.
“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,” Washington said in a statement following Boseman’s death on Friday. “God bless Chadwick Boseman.”