John Coffey is a protagonist character from the book The Green Mile. In the film adaptation, he was portrayed by the late actor Michael Clarke Duncan. He was an innocent inmate placed on deathrow at Cold Mountain Penitentiary for a crime he never committed. His date of birth is unknown.
The Green Mile (1996 Novel)
A first-person narrative told by Paul Edgecombe, the novel switches between Paul as an old man in the Georgia Pines nursing home sharing his story with fellow resident Elaine Connelly in 1996, and his time in 1932 as the block supervisor of the Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row, nicknamed "The Green Mile" for the color of the floor's linoleum. This year marks the arrival of John Coffey, a 6 ft 8 in powerfully built black man who has been convicted of raping and murdering two small white girls. During his time on the Mile, John interacts with fellow prisoners Eduard "Del" Delacroix, a Cajun arsonist, rapist, and murderer, and William Wharton ("Billy the Kid" to himself, "Wild Bill" to the guards), a wild-acting and dangerous multiple murderer who is determined to make as much trouble as he can before he is executed. Other inhabitants include Arlen Bitterbuck, a Native American convicted of killing a man in a fight over a pair of boots (also the first character to die in the electric chair); Arthur Flanders, a real estate executive who killed his father to perpetrate insurance fraud, and whose sentence is eventually commuted to life imprisonment (while serving his sentence, he is killed by another inmate in the laundry room); and Mr. Jingles, a mouse, to whom Del teaches various tricks.
Paul and the other guards are irritated throughout the book by Percy Wetmore, a sadistic guard who enjoys antagonizing the prisoners. The other guards have to be civil to him despite their dislike of him because he is the nephew of the Governor's wife. When Percy is offered a position at the nearby Briar Ridge psychiatric hospital as a secretary, Paul thinks they are finally rid of him. However, Percy refuses to leave until he is allowed to supervise an execution, so Paul hesitantly allows him to run Del's. Percy deliberately avoids soaking a sponge in brine that is supposed to be tucked inside the electrode cap to ensure a quick death in the electric chair. When the switch is thrown, the current causes Del to catch fire in the chair and suffer a prolonged, agonizing demise.
Over time, Paul realizes that John possesses inexplicable healing abilities, which he uses to cure Paul's urinary tract infection and revive Mr. Jingles after Percy stomps on him. Simple-minded and shy, John is very empathic and sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others around him. One night, the guards drug Wharton, then put a straitjacket on Percy and lock him in the padded restraint room so that they can smuggle John out of the prison and take him to the home of Warden Hal Moores. Hal's wife Melinda has an inoperable brain tumor, which John cures. When they return to the Mile, John passes the "disease" from Melinda into Percy, causing him to go mad and shoot Wharton to death before falling into a catatonic state from which he never recovers. Percy is committed to Briar Ridge.
Paul's long-simmering suspicions that John is innocent are proven right when he discovers that it was actually William Wharton who raped and killed the twin sisters and that John was trying to revive them. Later, John tells Paul what he saw when Wharton grabbed his arm one time, how Wharton had coerced the sisters to be silent by threatening to kill one if the other made a noise, using their love for each other. Paul is unsure how to help John, but John tells him not to worry, as he is ready to die anyway, wanting to escape the cruelty of the world. John's execution is the last one in which Paul participates. He introduces Mr. Jingles to Elaine just before the mouse dies, having lived 64 years past these events, and explains that those healed by John gained an unnaturally long lifespan. Elaine dies shortly after, never learning how Paul's wife died in his arms immediately after they suffered a bus accident, and that he then saw John Coffey's ghost watching him from an overpass. Paul seems to be all alone, now 104 years old, and wondering how much longer he will live.
The Green Mile (1999 Film)
In a Louisiana assisted-living home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb begins to cry while watching the film Top Hat. His companion Elaine becomes concerned, and Paul explains to her that the film reminded him of the events of 1935, which took place when he was a prison officer, in charge of death row, what they refer to as the "Green Mile".
In 1935, Paul supervises officers Brutus Howell , Dean Stanton , Harry Terwilliger , and Percy Wetmore at Cold Mountain Penitentiary . Paul is suffering from a severe bladder infection and receives John Coffey, a physically imposing but mentally challenged black man, into his custody. John had been sentenced to death after being convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. One of the other inmates is a Native-American named Arlen Bitterbuck, who is charged with murder and is the first to be executed. Percy demonstrates a severe sadistic streak, but, as the nephew of Louisiana's First Lady, he is beyond reproach. He is particularly abusive with inmate Eduard Delacroix; he breaks Del's fingers with his baton, steps on a pet mouse named Mr. Jingles, which Del had adopted, repeatedly calls him by a gay slur, and ultimately sabotages his execution by failing to soak the sponge used to conduct electricity to Del's head; Del dies screaming in pain.
John begins to demonstrate supernatural powers; he cures Paul's bladder infection, resurrects Mr. Jingles, and heals Melinda Moores, wife of the prison's chief warden, of a brain tumor. This last affliction he releases into Percy, who under its influence shoots another prisoner, mass murderer William Wharton, dead. Wharton had from the moment of his arrival been a troublemaker; he assaulted the guards as he was being escorted into the block, made mischief on two occasions that later caused Paul to order him restrained in the block's padded cell, groped Percy, racially insulted John, and revealed psychically to John that he is, in fact, responsible for the crime for which John was condemned. John then reveals the story psychically to Paul, and, when doing so, he also releases his supernatural energy into Paul. Meanwhile, Percy is committed to the insane asylum.
Although distraught over the notion of being executed while innocent, John tells Paul that he does, in fact, wish to die, as he views the world as a cruel place. Mentioning that he had never seen a movie before, John watches Top Hat with the other guards as a last request. John is executed that night but refuses the customary hood, as he is afraid of the dark. Paul concludes his story by telling Elaine that John's was the last execution that he and Brutus supervised; following Coffey's execution, they both took jobs in the juvenile system.
Elaine realizes that, since he had a grown son in 1935, Paul must be much older than he looks. Paul reveals that he is, in fact, 108 years of age. Not only is he still alive, so is Del's mouse, Mr. Jingles. Paul then muses that if John's power could make a mouse live for as long as Mr. Jingles has, how much longer does he himself have left?
John Coffey was an African-American man, approximately 6'8" ft tall, with a powerful muscular frame. Due to being mistaken for the crime of murder and rape, he is put on deathrow in the 1930's. Not long after being convicted, Coffey shows he has a miraculous healing ability by instantaneously healing Paul Edgecomb's urinary tract infection. He also heals Mr. Jingles, Eduard Delacroix's pet mouse, after Percy Wetmore steps on him in attempt to kill him. John is very large, having to duck under most doors. He has a mind similar to a child, possibly due to little or no educational teachings. He once claims he can only spell his name. He is mild-mannered, calling everyone Sir or Ma'am. Whenever he heals someone, he exhales a swarm of strange, insect-like things, and, [in the movie], the lights flicker. He on one occasion used Percy for vengeance against William "Wild Bill" Wharton, and for what he did.
Powers and Abilities
Through unknown means, John Coffey possesses a powerful array of supernatural powers, his base ability is mainly healing. John's healing ability seems only limited to active living organisms, as he was never shown to successfully resurrect the dead as he tragically wasn't able to save two young girls that were murdered. This could simply be that he wasn't in time to save the girls as they were found dead in the morning as most likely their life energy had already passed. In his own words, he described it as "I tried to take it back. I couldn't help it." due to his poor linguistics. It could also mean that he didn't truly understand how his powers worked as through both the film and novel, he seems to possess empathy that connects him to all of the human race and low-range telepathy. Before Paul and Brutal could tell him the truth of a secret nightly mission, he answered them, "To help a lady", referring to Warden Hal Moores's wife.
His telepathy seems to be confirmed as it’s shown in the film that the elderly Paul Edgecombe was able to sense or hear the turmoil in his friend, Elaine, blaming Coffey for his condition.
His healing results in purifying a person completely and leaving only the "disease" left over exhaling it out of his body as a transference. The results of the cleansing from the healing always manifests as insect-like afflictions that float into the air only to dissolve as ashes seconds later.
He could also send telepathic and empathic signals to another person, but the act has resulted in the exchanging of power from one vessel to another.
To some level, due to his frame, John also has some enhanced strength, as seen when he was able to hold Percy Wetmore perfectly in place while all of the other guards tried to feebly get him loose.
- His initials are identical to Jesus Christ's (J.C.).
- He has an innocent, child-like mind.
- He has a hulking, powerful physical body, similar to the descriptions given of the Biblical Samson and the Greek hero Herakles (Hercules).
- He is implied to have been a prophet of God.