Mac, Hayes and Taylor
Shirley Hawkins | 8/13/2008, 5 p.m.
Bernie Mac, the irascible but lovable actor and comedian who starred in "The Bernie Mac Show" and the "Ocean's Eleven" franchise, died Saturday at the age of 50.
The comedian's publicist, Dana Smith, said that Mac died from complications related to pneumonia at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
"Initially when he was hospitalized we expected him to come back home, but as the weeks went on, I kind of knew," said Je'niece Childress, the 30-year-old daughter and only child of the comedian.
The comedian suffered from sarciodosis (contracted in 1983), a chronic immune disorder that causes inflammation in tissue, most often the lungs, although Mac said the condition went into remission in 2005.
Ironically, Mac had recently finished working on the film "Soul Men" with musician Isaac Hayes, who died Sunday. The film, which was shot in Memphis, Tenn. this past April, centers around two aging back up singers who travel together for a tribute performance in honor of their recently deceased band leader. The film is set to be in theaters in November.
Mac's ribald sense of comedy got the comedian into trouble during one of his last appearances at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Mac lifted eyebrows during the fundraiser by cracking jokes about sexual infidelity, menopause and promiscuity. Obama's campaign later said the jokes were "inappropriate."
"I kind of figured he was going to get a lot of backlash," Childress told news sources. "Telling that joke at that time probably wasn't the best idea, but that's him."
Mac went on to stardom in a string of comedies that included his role as the wily con man Pastor Clever in "Friday" (1995) and Gin, the store detective in "Bad Santa" (2003). He also played the short-tempered Stan Ross, the nation's most hated baseball player, in "Mr. 3000" (2004).
Many television viewers remember Mac from the popular "The Bernie Mac Show," in which he played an irascible patriarch with a heart of gold who was raising his troubled sister's three children. The show usually featured an exasperated Mac who parented the children with stern, loving and often hilarious results. The sitcom, which aired more than 100 episodes from 2001 to 2006, was loosely based on the comedian's life.
Mac incorporated aspects of his stand-up act in the TV show, and during each episode would often pause with exasperation, stare into the camera and address the audience. During one show, he swiveled in his chair and said, "Now America, tell me again, why can't I whip that girl?"
The show was recognized with a Peabody Award during its five-season run.
"The success of my comedy has been on not being afraid to touch on subject matters or issues that everyone else is politically scared of," Mac told The Times in 2001. "It's a joke, believe me. I'm not trying to hurt anybody."
Mac received two Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series in 2002 and 2003. The show's executive producer, Larry Wilmore, also earned an Emmy.
After hearing of Mac's passing, Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement calling Mac "a gifted talent whose comedy came from an authentic and highly personal place."
Many of Mac's Hollywood friends expressed their sadness upon hearing of the great comedian's passing.
Comedienne Niecy Nash, who played Mac's little sister, Benita, on "The Bernie Mac Show," recalls, "Bernie Mac was the personification of the word 'real.' He kept it real. That kind of genuine spirit that he carried all the time cannot be easily duplicated, but I will do my very best to try."
Ice Cube, who directed Mac in the movie "Friday," recalls, "Today and tomorrow will never be as funny as yesterday without Bernie Mac, a true original."
Comedian Chris Rock, who worked with Mac in the film "Head of State," referred to Mac as "One of the best and funniest comedians to ever live, but that was the second-best thing he did. Bernie was one of the greatest friends a person could have," Rock told the E! television show. "Losing him is like losing 12 people, because he absolutely filled up any room he was in. I'm gonna miss the Mac Man."
Comedian Martin Lawrence, who worked with Mac on the 1999 comedy film "Life," told The Times, "Words can't express the absolute devastation I am feeling over the loss of Bernie, a comic genius, a great man and someone I am honored to have called my friend."
Cedric the Entertainer, who appeared with Mac on "The Original Kings of Comedy" tour along with comedians D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey, reflected, "His comedic approach was his own brand and will definitely stand the test of time. The level of his talent always inspired me, and other comedians, to 'bring their A-game.' I promise you that you never wanted to be the guy who had to follow Bernie's set!"
Mac's side-splitting humor kept audiences in stitches during "The Kings of Comedy" tour which would gross $59 million in sales. "The Kings of Comdey" tour also generated several HBO specials and a film of the same name directed by Spike Lee.
Born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957 in Chicago to a single mother, Mac grew up on the city's South Side. Mac credits his mother for inspiring him to become a comedian. He told a television interviewer in 2001 that when he was five, he saw his mother sitting in front of the television set crying. "The Ed Sullivan Show" was playing, and Bill Cosby was on the show. When Mr. Cosby began telling a story about snakes in a bathroom, she started laughing despite herself. When I saw her laughing, I told her that I was going to be a comedian so she'd never cry again," Mac said.
When his mother died of cancer, when he was 16, Mac was raised by his grandmother. His two brothers also died, one in infancy, the other of a heart attack in his 20's.
After high school, Mac worked as a janitor, a mover and a school bus driver before finding a job at a General Motors plant. In 1976, he married his high school sweetheart, Rhonda.
Desperate to become a comedian, Mac told jokes for tips on the Chicago subway and performed at comedy clubs. "When I started in the clubs, I had to work places where didn't nobody else want to work," he told The Washington Post. "I had to do clubs where street gangs were, had to do motorcycle gangs, gay balls and things of that nature."
During several stand up routines, Mac caught the attention of Redd Foxx and Slappy White. White invited him to perform in Las Vegas in 1989. A year later, Mac won the Miller Lite Comedy Search, a national contest.
In 1990, he was invited to do two shows with Def Comedy Jam, a tour featuring young black comedians, which was filmed for HBO. Mac was soon winning small roles in such films as "Mo' Money" (1992), "Who's the Man?" (1993) and "House Party 3" (1994). He also performed on the HBO variety series "Midnight Mac." In 1996, he landed the role of Uncle Bernie on the UPN sitcom "Moesha" before starring in "The Bernie Mac Show" in 2001.
During the run of the show, Mac also appeared in a spate of films including "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" (2001), "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) and its two sequels, and "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" (2003).
He also played a befuddled father whose daughter falls in love with a white suitor (Ashton Kutcher) in 2005's "Guess Who?" a remake of the Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
In his 2004 memoir, "Maybe You Never Cry Again," Mac wrote about his strict, no-nonsense upbringing and growing up poor. "I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy," Mac told the Associated Press in 2001. "I decided to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about."
Johnnie Blair, the president of the Bronzeville Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, was a friend of Mac's who has followed his career.
"It's a major loss to our community," Blair said. "Bernie Mac never forgot where he came from, and I think his comedy reflected that."
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich called Mac "a favorite son."
"I think he will always be remembered as one of the original kings of comedy," Childress said. "I think what made him so special to people was that even though he was a celebrity he just seemed so down to earth and so much like a part of your family."
Last year, Mac announced that he was retiring from stand-up so that he could enjoy life more. He credited his grandmother with teaching him to keep people guessing.
"She always said, 'Don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing'....I love it when you all walk away and say, 'I didn't know he could do that.' I just laugh because I love being underestimated. I have been underestimated my whole life."
Mac is survived by his wife, Rhonda McCullough, their daughter, Ja'Niece, a son-in-law and a granddaughter.