Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh and connect with him. For Mr. Mac, 50, who died...
Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh and connect with him. For Mr. Mac, 50, who died Saturday, it was a winning mix that delivered him from a poor childhood to stardom as a stand-up comedian, in films including the casino heist caper “Ocean’s Eleven” and his acclaimed sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show.”
Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal, befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx, Moms Mabley, Red Skelton and Redd Foxx.
Mr. Mac died from complications of pneumonia in a Chicago-area hospital, said his publicist, Danica Smith. A public memorial is planned for noon Aug. 16 at The House of Hope church in Chicago, Smith said.
“The world just got a little less funny,” said “Ocean’s” co-star George Clooney.
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Don Cheadle, another member of the “Ocean’s” gang, concurred: “This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie. He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed, but heaven just got funnier.”
Mr. Mac — born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough — in 1983 contracted sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that can affect the lungs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said was not related to the disease.
Mr. Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago’s South Side. He began doing stand-up as a child, 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.”
He was one of “The Original Kings of Comedy” in the 2000 documentary of that title that brought a new generation of black stand-up comedy stars to a wider audience.
Mr. Mac went on to star in the popular “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise with Brad Pitt and Clooney; he played a gaming-table dealer who was in on the heist. In other films such as “Bad Santa” and “Mr. 3000,” he often played evil-tongued but lovable rogues.
Mr. Mac and Ashton Kutcher topped the box office in 2005’s “Guess Who,” a comedy remake of the classic Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”
He also had starring roles in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Friday” and “Transformers.”
But his career and comic identity were forged in television.
In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in “Moesha.” Critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox series “The Bernie Mac Show,” about a child-averse couple suddenly saddled with three children.
Mr. Mac made a different kind of TV dad, “more Ike Turner than Dr. Spock,” Chris Norris wrote in a 2002 profile for The New York Times Magazine. Mr. Mac’s special style of tough love — “I’m gonna bust your head till the white meat shows,” he warned his surly teenage niece — set the show apart from other family sitcoms and raised a few eyebrows. But audiences saw enough of the character’s soft center to find the show touching.
Mr. Mac incorporated aspects of his stand-up act in the TV show, and during each episode would break the “fourth wall” and address the audience. On one show, he swiveled in his chair and said, “Now America, tell me again, why can’t I whip that girl?”
“The Bernie Mac Show” show ran for five seasons, and Mac received two Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series in 2002 and 2003. The series won a Peabody Award in 2002. In real life, he was “the king of his household,” very much like his character on that series, his daughter, Je’Niece Childress, said Saturday.
He also was nominated for a Grammy award for best comedy album in 2001 along with his “The Original Kings of Comedy” co-stars Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer.
In his 2004 memoir, “Maybe You Never Cry Again,” Mr. Mac wrote about having a poor childhood — eating bologna for dinner — and a strict, no-nonsense upbringing.
“I came from a place where there wasn’t a lot of joy,” he said in 2001. “I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn’t a lot of things to laugh about.”
In July, Mr. Mac, a fervent supporter of Barack Obama, dismayed the candidate during a stand-up routine at a fundraising dinner in Chicago. He told salacious jokes and drew a reprimand from Obama, who warned him, “Bernie, you’ve got to clean up your act next time.”
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, granddaughter and son-in-law.