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.
Isaac Hayes, 65, succumbs
Won Academy and Grammy awards for “Theme from Shaft”
By Shirley Hawkins
OW Staff Writer
Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician, cited as one of the most influential and dominant musicians in the ’70s, and who shot to stardom with classics like the Academy and Grammy winning “Theme from Shaft,” died on Sunday of a stroke, in East Memphis, Tenn. He was 65.
Steve Shular, a spokesman for the Memphis sheriff’s office, said authorities received a 911 call after Hayes’ wife Adjowa, her young son and her cousin returned home from the grocery store and found Hayes collapsed in a downstairs bedroom at their home in Cordova, an eastern suburb of Memphis. He was pronounced dead an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the Memphis sheriff’s office.
“The treadmill was running but he was unresponsive lying on the floor,” Shular said.
A sheriff’s deputy administered CPR to Hayes until paramedics arrived. The cause of death is not known.
Adjowa told investigators that her husband “had not been in the best of health recently.” No autopsy is planned.
Hayes was about to begin work on a new album for Stax, the soul record label he helped to build to legendary status.
Recognized for his bass-baritone, trademark bald head and full beard, Hayes laid the groundwork for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. On stage, Hayes flaunting his black male virility with his trademark dark shades, his gleaming, muscular bare chest adorned with glistening heavy gold chains, Hayes was greeted with the admiring screams of female fans that quickly catapulted him to the status of ’70s sex symbol. Along with the flamboyant style, Hayes developed a musical persona that was an embodiment of the street-savvy characters of the so-called blaxploitation films of the era.
By the late 1960s, Hayes emerged as a solo artist. He quickly became recognized for his passionate and “cool” vocals that became his trademark throughout his career. In between his sensuous crooning, Hayes would preface his songs with lengthy “raps”–decades before rap became popular. His albums, featuring lush arrangements and superb orchestration, are considered by many fans as well as those in the music industry to be musical masterpieces.
Hayes shot to fame with the release of the groundbreaking 1969 album “Hot Buttered Soul,” which reached platinum status. Showcasing his prodigious creative and innovative abilities, Hayes covered songs by the Carpenters, Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The album, which became one of Hayes’ biggest hits, featured only four songs, including a 12-minute version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By” and an 18-minute version of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”
His next creative endeavor was “Theme from Shaft,” a No. 1 hit in 1971 from the film “Shaft” starring actor Richard Roundtree.
When he was originally approached to create the score to “Shaft,” Hayes said he also wanted the lead role. Although the part went to Roundtree, Hayes recorded the music anyway, which he completed in four days. The song became a number one hit and garnered Hayes two Grammys and an Academy Award.
“That was like the shot heard round the world,” Hayes said about “Theme from Shaft” in a 1999 interview.
At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No. 18 in its list of television’s 25 most memorable moments. Hayes was the first African American composer to win an Academy Award.
In 1971 he followed up the “Shaft”soundtrack with “Black Moses,” a double album that was another ambitious expansion of the vocabulary of soul music which won a third Grammy for pop instrumental performance. The famous album, which folded out, revealed a portrait of Hayes in crucifix form. He also became nicknamed “Black Moses” after a member of his security team christened him with the moniker.
Recognized as one of the architects of the Stax sound, the multitalented, self-taught singer/musician was also one of the principal songwriters and performers for Stax Records, the trailblazing Memphis R&B label.
After teaming with David Porter, the duo wrote such timeless hits as “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” for Sam and Dave and “B-A-B-Y” for Carla Thomas. The Stax sound was full of sweat and grit, a real departure from the silky soul of Motown. During their collaboration, Hayes and Porter penned about 200 songs. Many of them remain as classics today.
Since the news of his death, tributes have been pouring in for the prolific songwriter/musician/producer whose unparalleled talent touched many lives.
Patti LaBelle, a good friend of Hayes, said, “I last saw Isaac a while back in Washington, D.C. at a concert where we were both performing. Although he was under the weather, he was still performing. He was the man–he had ‘the show must go on’ spirit. In his absence, he will be remembered through his great music. He will forever be in our hearts and souls. God bless his family.”
Aretha Franklin reflected, “It was so sad to hear about Isaac Hayes. So musically advanced and timeless in his compositions. He was loved and appreciated by so many. He was an enduring symbol of the struggle of the African American man and was a shining example of soul at its best. God bless.”
Upon hearing of his death, Dionne Warwick stated, “I’ve lost one of my best buddies and it is not easy to reckon with…I know one can never put a question mark where God puts a period, so I will not question the Almighty’s decision to call him home….He was my family…He will be a part of my musical life each time I sing the song “Deja Vu” as this was a birthday gift from me to him….My family and I send sincere heartfelt condolences to his family for their enormous loss, and we will hold them in continuous prayer.”
“The loss of Isaac Hayes less than 24-hours after Bernie Mac represents a major double blow to the entire entertainment industry, black Hollywood in particular,” says African American Film Critic President Gil Robertson IV. “The art form and expressions created by Isaac Hayes in particular resonated not only in American pop culture but throughout American life. Both are talents that will be missed but always remembered.”
Grammy winner Sam Moore, of the legendary duo Sam and Dave, was crushed by Hayes’ death. “I owe so much of my fame and success to Isaac Hayes as it was Isaac who wrote, produced and actually invented what is known as the Memphis Sound…I truly know I was blessed to have had his presence in my life and career…Fortunately for us all, Isaac’s talent will continue to be recognized and live on as a result of his enormous musical contribution.”
Author and ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman’s book “Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records,” cited Hayes’ as a major influence on other artists during the ’70s. “In the first few years of the 1970s, he single-handedly redefined the sonic possibilities for black music, and in the process opened up the album market as a commercially viable medium for black artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic, and Curtis Mayfield.”
Hayes’ career carried highs and lows. His popularity as a recording artist waned in the mid-1970s, and he filed for bankruptcy in 1976.
Hayes ventured into acting in the 1980s, appearing in the television show “The Rockford Files” and the cult sci-fi film “Escape to New York,” playing Duke, the menacing lead villain. He also was featured in the spoof “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” in 1988 and in 1995’s “Johnny Mnemonic.” He eventually appeared in more than 60 movies and television shows.
In the 1990s he revived his career by providing the voice of Chef on the cable television show “South Park.” But Hayes angrily quit the show in 2006 after an episode mocked Scientology, the religion that Hayes practiced, citing that the episode showed bigotry and intolerance for his religious beliefs. He also had radio shows in the 1990s in both New York and Memphis.
Hayes inspired countless musicians. Soul singers Alicia Keys, D’Angelo and the hip hop duo OutKast said they were influenced by Hayes’ music. Hayes also acknowledge that he was also heavily sampled by scores of rappers. “The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence,” Hayes noted. “And they’ll tell you if you ask.”
After visiting Africa, Hayes founded the Isaac Hayes Foundation and built an 8,000 square foot educational school in Ghana. The country recognized his humanitarian efforts by crowning him as a king.
In 2002, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Hayes was born Aug. 20, 1942, to a sharecropper’s family in a tin shack in rural Covington, Tenn. His mother died early and his father left home when he was a child. He was raised by his grandparents, and worked in cotton fields while going to school.
Still, the family was mired in grinding poverty. “I used to dream, just dream about being able to have a warm bed to sleep in and a nice square meal and some decent clothes to wear,” Hayes told Ebony magazine in 1970.
A self-taught musician, Hayes began to play organ, piano and saxophone. As a ninth-grader, Hayes won a school talent contest with his rendition of a song by Nat “King” Cole, whom he idolized.
He began playing in local bands, and by early 1964, when he was 21, he was working as a backup musician for Stax. His first session was with the legendary Otis Redding.
Hayes had health problems in recent years, but continued to tour and work occasionally in film. His last movie “Soul Men,” a comedy set for release in November, stars Bernie Mac, who died Saturday, and Samuel L. Jackson.
With tributes to Hayes pouring in from all corners of the globe, the Hayes family issued the following statement: “We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love from Isaac’s dear friends, colleagues and fans from every corner of the world, and we thank each and every one of them for their kind thoughts and prayers. While he was an iconic figure to many, to us he was husband, father and friend. We will ever miss his love, wisdom, humor and the familiar comfort of his voice.”
A memorial service will be held on Monday at Hope Presbyterian Church, 850 Walnut Grove, Cordova, Tennessee to celebrate the soul icon’s life.
He is survived by his wife of three years Adjowa Hayes, and their two-year-old son Kwadjo Hayes, 10 children, Jacqueline Fields, Felecia Hayes Fisher, Veronica Hayes, Vincent Hayes, Melanie Hayes, Nikki McGhee, Heather Hayes, Isaac Hayes III, Darius Caston and Lillian Bryant,14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Condolences may be sent to the family at email@example.com.
Local activist Darren ‘Bo’ Taylor dead at 42
Peacekeeper and founder of Unity One
By Shirley Hawkins
OW Staff Writer
Community activist Darren “Bo” Taylor, 42, a former gang member and founder of the grassroots gang prevention and intervention organization Unity One, succumbed to a long battle with cancer Monday. Details of his passing were not available at press time.
Taylor emerged as one of the most respected gang peacekeepers in Los Angeles. Recognized for his superb mediation skills, he was respected by street toughs as well as by members of law enforcement and community activists.
Born in Memphis, Tenn. on Jan. 20, 1966, Taylor and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was five. He graduated from Los Angeles High School and at 18 joined the Navy. After leaving the military and returning to Los Angeles in the early ’90s and unable to find employment, Taylor joined the Schoolyard Crips and turned to a life of drug trafficking and gang violence.
But Taylor was one of the lucky ones. Unlike dozens of young African American young men whose lives were cut short in a hail of bullets, Taylor “woke up” after being shot at seven times in one month in the same phone booth. He decided enough was enough and vowed to turn his life around.
After the 1992 civil unrest, Taylor used his street connections to broker a truce between the Crips and the Bloods.
“People believed that the Bloods and the Crips couldn’t come together,” Taylor told Time magazine. “But from 1992, relationships from Watts to the West Side really started to improve.”
He founded Unity One shortly after the civil unrest. The program, which offered life skills training and conflict resolution classes to ex-gang members, was funded by A Better L. A., a group established by USC football coach Pete Carroll to address urban violence.
Le-Chein Taylor, executive director of Unity One and Bo’s brother, said, “Bo was a genius, a true living legend who will never be replaced. He is a true Malcolm X and Martin Luther King of this day and time. He touched the lives of so many people from all walks of life. How can one imagine life without Bo? This legendary man will be in my heart forever.”
When race riots broke out in the Los Angeles County jails five years ago, Taylor was able to talk to the gang leaders responsible for the violence and persuaded them to call off the fighting that left dozens injured.
Later, he spearheaded a program in the jails that focused on increased cultural awareness and reached 3,000 inmates. The program also imparted skills for managing anger and resolving conflict nonviolently.
In 2007, Taylor began hosting a midnight-to-2 a.m. call in show on KRBV-FM (100.3), in which he and callers discussed the causes and consequences of gang activity. “The only way things will change is for the ones in the community to get involved,” said Taylor. “We’ve never stopped, we’ve kept on going. But if the mentality doesn’t change, the community will smother itself.”
Friend Melvin Hayward said he was amazed at how skillfully Bo brought diverse segments of people together to support gang intervention and prevention. “I’ve met actor Harry Belafonte, singer James Ingram, and USC coach Pete Carroll at Unity One events,” Hayward recalled. Others who supported Unity One events included singer Chaka Khan, actor Don Cheadle and Amer-i-Can founder and football great Jim Brown.
“I’ve never seen anyone who could build relationships outside of the intervention community like Bo could,” continued Hayward. “He brought together philanthropists, movie industry people, businesspeople and just regular folks into the gang intervention world.”
Jeff Harmon, who with Taylor’s guidance founded United Three, said, “I knew Bo for 13 years. When I was paroled from prison, I had anger management issues. I heard about his organization, Unity One. Bo taught me how to be self-reliant and how to get along with other gang members. He taught me to respect all races and to be a humanitarian.”
Harmon said Unity One helped many former gang members get training through certification and education. “Unity One and Bo Taylor helped hundreds of ex-gang members and regular people,” Harmon recalled.
Harmon added that Taylor’s legacy will be immeasurable. “He had tremendous influence on the gang intervention community. He helped to broker peace treaties with at least 17 gangs in Los Angeles, and we’re still maintaining peace through Unity One and Unity Three. When it came to bringing peace to the streets, he was the quarterback and I was the receiver. Pausing, Harmon reflected, “Bo could bring sunshine to a rainy day.”
Community activist Clifford ‘Skipp’ Townsend called Taylor’s passing “tragic.” “I was with Bo Friday and we sat and talked. He told me that death was not an option. He said he was fighting the cancer to the very end. He just wanted to get his strength back. We talked about him coming back to do his intervention work.”
Townsend said that Taylor will always be credited for helping to quell gang violence in the city. “He’s responsible for bringing the West side gang members together,” said Townsend. “He was the liaison who slowed down the gang violence and shootings after the uprising in 1992.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson, Jr. (10th District) stated that, “Bo Taylor was a peace-maker. He inspired others to seek peace in our community, and he understood that we all have a responsibility to save our young people. We will miss his commitment and leadership.”
Maximum Forces Enterprises executive director Aquil Basheer said that Taylor was a guiding light among members of the gang intervention and prevention community. “Bo was a true soldier in the difficult work he did trying to bring peace to the streets,” reflected Basheer. “He had a heart of gold with the fortitude of steel. He will be remembered as one of the few who embraced his role as peacemaker and was totally committed to working in the community.”
Najee Ali, founder of Project Islamic Hope, who knew Taylor for 15 years, said, “Bo was dedicated to keeping peace and trying to help young people stay out of gangs. He was one of the most prominent gang intervention workers in the city. We will continue to make sure his legacy of keeping the peace endures.”
Stan Muhammad, co-founder of the gang intervention group Venice 2000, said that Taylor was a “compassionate person who really cared about people. The last time I saw him was on a fishing trip about nine months ago. We used to go on his brother’s boat and go fishing for therapy.”
Pausing, Muhammad said, “His legacy will be great. Bo left his stamp on this earth. He was a major ambassador to the gang intervention in the city of Los Angeles and abroad. He was a tireless hero who affected thousands of lives.”
With a number of gang prevention and intervention groups facing the loss of funding, Muhammad said that during the last few months, Taylor was seeking alternative funding avenues for gang intervention and prevention groups. “He wanted to have a series of meetings about raising funds for the agencies that were doing the work,” said Muhammad. “He wanted to find a way that groups could become independent without relying on city or federal funding.”
Taylor was diagnosed eight months ago with a rare cancer that attacks the tissues of the mouth. Although it spread to his neck and head, Taylor resisted traditional medicine to seek treatment in Tijuana. He was on his way to a clinic there when he died.
Before he passed, Taylor realized that there was more work to be done in the community. “With the dropout rate in the high schools you have a new dynamic of young people hanging out with nothing to do,” he told news sources. “Countywide that’s a large number when you look at servicing the 400 to 500 dropping out of each school each year.”
Nikko Delony, who recalls that he and Taylor grew up in the same neighborhood but joined rival gangs, said he was proud that Taylor played a major role in preventing gang violence. “He will be sorely missed,” he said.
Community activist Big “Money” Griff reflected, “Bo Taylor was a family man who brought change to our community by becoming an advocate to stop the killing. Bo Taylor was a hero. May he rest in peace.”
Vicky Lindsey, founder of Project Cry No More, a victim’s services organization, said “Bo was a true soldier, a man of his word. He always made it cool for intervention and victim’s services to work together.”
Community activist Mollie Bell, who met Taylor in the early ’90s, said, “Bo was serious about gang intervention before the average person even knew what gang intervention was. He always fought for peace, so now he is at the ultimate peace by being at rest with God.
During a 2007 interview with Time magazine, Taylor was asked about the legacy he would like to leave. He reflected, “Five years from now, ten years from now, people will know there were a bunch of men who stepped up and got involved and became a part of the change. Because of that, they get to live in a decent community.”
Funeral services for Taylor will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the City of Refuge Church, 14527 S. San Pedro St. in Gardena. Memorial donations may be sent to Unity One Foundation Inc., 3990 S. Menlo Avenue., Los Angeles, 90037.