August 9, 2008 / 2:07 PM / 11 years ago

Comedian and actor Bernie Mac dies at 50

LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO, Aug 9 (Reuters Life!) - Comedian and actor Bernie Mac, who starred in one of U.S. TV’s few black sitcoms and appeared in the “Ocean’s 11” movies, died in Chicago on Saturday after a bout with pneumonia. He was 50.

Bernie Mac smiles at the premiere of "Ocean's Thirteen" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California June 5, 2007. The movie opens in the U.S. on June 8. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Publicist Danica Smith confirmed the death in a statement but gave no further details. “We ask that his family’s privacy continues to be respected,” she said.

Reactions poured in from Hollywood, which was taken by surprise because two days ago, Smith said he was “responding well to treatment” and remained in “stable condition.”

“The world just got a little less funny. He will be dearly missed,” said George Clooney, who starred with Mac in the “Ocean’s” trilogy of hit box office films.

Mac was hospitalized in Chicago on August 1, and Smith said then his illness was unrelated to a chronic tissue inflammation called sarcoidosis, which had been in remission since 2005.

The Chicago-born comedian, whose given name was Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, was best known for his TV comedy “The Bernie Mac Show,” which ran for five seasons until 2006.

Along with the “Ocean’s” capers, he appeared in movies such as comedy “Guess Who” and “Mr. 3000.” He recently worked on a new TV show “Starting Under” and an upcoming film “Soul Men”.

With his beefy frame and bulging eyes, Mac cut an imposing figure. His scathing comedic observations were inspired by his impoverished childhood in Chicago and honed by years on the stand-up circuit.

“I reflect on my childhood, my young adulthood, the disappointments of life — the problems I brought on myself, the self-pity I went through before I became a man,” he told Playboy magazine in 2003.


Mac achieved national prominence after joining the Kings of Comedy stand-up tour in 1997 with Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer. Tapping into an under-served market of middle-class blacks, the dapper quartet sold out arenas across the country during their annual treks.

In 2000, director Spike Lee shot a hugely profitable documentary about the tour.

The following year, “The Bernie Mac Show” debuted on Fox, drawing from Mac’s personal life. He played a married stand-up comic reluctantly thrust into parenthood when he takes custody of his sister’s three children after she enters rehab.

Mac’s character often turned to the camera, addressing “America” with such observations as “I hate my loved ones. They make me sick” or “I love my wife, but I hate her (golf) game.”

While many contemporary TV dads get cheap laughs by playing clueless, Mac portrayed a level-headed family man unafraid to exert authority. He earned two Emmy nominations for his role.

Actor Bernie Mac arrives for the 60th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California in this January 19, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/Files

“Losing him is like losing 12 people because he absolutely filled up any room he was in. I’m gonna miss the Mac Man,” said comic actor Chris Rock in a story at E! Online.

Mac was born in Chicago on October 3, 1957, and raised in a tenement. His mother died when he was 15, and his father — whom he met only a dozen times — three years later. He credited his grandmother for keeping him grounded.

Married for more than 30 years, Mac largely eschewed Hollywood, choosing to live in Chicago. He is survived by his wife, a daughter and a granddaughter.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Stacey Joyce

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