Monday, August 11, 2008

Good Bye Bernie Mac

Bernie Mac blended authority, style and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh as well as connect with him. For him, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a standup comedian, in films including the casino heist caper "Ocean's Eleven" and his acclaimed sitcom "The Bernie Mac Show." Mac died Saturday morning of complications from pneumonia in a Chicago-area hospital, his publicist, Danica Smith, said in a statement from Los Angeles.

Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, Mac had mainstream appeal, befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx as well as Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.

Recently, Mac's brand of comedy caught him dissension when he was heckled during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama. Moreover, toward the end of a 10-minute standup routine, Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity, and used occasional crude language. Obama took the stage about 15 minutes later, implored Mac to "clean up your act next time," then let him off the hook, adding: "By the way, I'm just messing with you, man."

Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease to produce tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. Mac recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said was not related to the disease.

Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago's South Side. He began doing standup as a child, telling jokes for spare change on subways, and his film career started with a small role as a club doorman in the Damon Wayans comedy "Mo' Money" in 1992. In 1996, he appeared in the Spike Lee drama "Get on the Bus."

In the late 1990s, Mac had a recurring role in "Moesha," the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy. The critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox television series "The Bernie Mac Show," about a child-averse couple who suddenly are saddled with three children.

The series won a Peabody Award in 2002, and Mac was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. In real life, he was "the king of his household", very much like his character on that series, his daughter, Je'niece Childress, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Mac also was nominated for a Grammy award for best comedy album in 2001 along with his "The Original Kings of Comedy" co-stars Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer.

Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957, in Chicago. He grew up on the South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church. Later on, Mac's mother died of cancer when he was 16. In his book, Mac said she was a support for him and told him he would surprise everyone when he grew up.

Mac's death Saturday coincided with the annual Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago, a major event in the predominantly black South Side that the comedian had previously attended. He was an ambassador of Chicago's black community, and the national black community at large.

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