One-time UNC basketball player, ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Neil Fingleton dies at 36

7 foot 7 inch Neil Fingleton, right, who played for the Tar Heels in 2001 and played the giant Mag the Mighty in HBO's Game of Thrones, has died at the age of 36.
7 foot 7 inch Neil Fingleton, right, who played for the Tar Heels in 2001 and played the giant Mag the Mighty in HBO's Game of Thrones, has died at the age of 36. Chuck Liddy, News & Observer file photo, right, HBO photo left

Neil Fingleton stood a remarkable 7 feet 7 inches tall.

His height and skill would earn him a high school basketball career and a spot on the UNC Tar Heels team. Later, Fingleton would turn to acting, landing roles that included the award-winning HBO show “Game of Thrones.”

Fingleton died unexpectedly Saturday at 36 because of heart complications, according to multiple reports.

At UNC, Fingleton came off the bench for one game in 2001.

“Very sad to hear the news of Neil’s passing at such a young age,” said Steve Kirschner, senior associate athletic director for communications at UNC. “He was an engaging young man who was well liked by his teammates and coaches. We followed his acting career with interest. Our prayers go out to his family, friends and fellow artists.”

Fingleton appeared on “Game of Thrones” as the mammoth-riding giant king Mag the Mighty. He was also in “47 Ronin” alongside Keanu Reeves, “Jupiter Ascending” with Channing Tatum, and other films and TV series.

Born in Durham, England in 1980, Fingleton was in the “Guiness Book of World Records” as the tallest British-born man and the tallest man in the European Union in 2007.

He attended high school in the United States after participating in a Connecticut basketball camp when he was 16. The center led Holy Name Central Catholic High School to the Massachusetts state finals in 1999 and was named to the McDonald’s High School All-America Team as a junior. He was the Massachusetts state player of the year as a senior, when he led Holy Name to a 22-4 record and the district finals.

At Carolina, Fingleton received a medical red shirt for the 2000-01 season after back surgery in August 2000 prevented him from resuming practice. Fingleton came off the bench for just one game at UNC before transferring to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., in 2002. He graduated Holy Cross with history degree in 2004.

In his 2007 Guinness entry, Fingleton said he was one of three siblings. His sister was 6 feet three inches, and his brother was 6 feet 8 inches. His mother and father were both 6 feet tall, he said.

“I have always been taller then everyone since I can remember,” he said. “My height really took off when I reached 11 and was touching 7 foot. By the time I was 16 I was 7 feet 5 inches and stopping growing at 18 when I was 7 feet 7.56 inches.”

Fingleton said he was never self conscious about his height.

“I am more conscious of going bald so that should tell you,” he said. I never let my height play a negative part in my life. I always do what I want, some tall people may be restricted as they are constantly stared at or people ask the same questions over and over. This is the only bad thing about being tall – the stupid remarks and questions. Other than that, being tall is great.”

Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett