- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008


Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh and connect with him.

For Bernie Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering 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 experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal — befitting his inspiration by a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx as well as Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.

Bernie Mac died from complications of pneumonia in a Chicago area hospital, publicist Danica Smith said. She said no other details were available.

“The world just got a little less funny,” said “Oceans” co-star George Clooney.

Don Cheadle, another member of the “Oceans” gang, concurred: “He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed, but heaven just got funnier.”

Bernie Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body’s organs, 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.

Just prior, his comedy caught flack when he was heckled at a surprise appearance at a presidential-campaign fundraiser for fellow Chicagoan Sen. Barack Obama.

Near the end of a 10-minute standup routine, Bernie Mac used crude language while joking about menopause, infidelity and promiscuity. When Mr. Obama took the stage, he implored the comic to “clean up your act next time,” then let him off the hook, adding: “By the way, I’m just messing with you, man.”

Born Bernard McCullough, Bernie Mac worked his way to stardom 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.”

But his career and comic identity were forged in television. In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in “Moesha,” the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy. More acclaim came from his own Fox series “The Bernie Mac Show,” about a child-averse couple suddenly saddled with three children.

Bernie Mac mined laughs from the universal frustrations of parenting, often breaking the “fourth wall” to address the camera throughout the series. “C’mon, America,” he implored in character as the put-upon dad. “When I say I wanna kill those kids, you know what I mean.”

The series won a Peabody Award in 2002, and Bernie Mac was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. He also was nominated for a Grammy Award for best comedy album in 2001 for “The Original Kings of Comedy,” the soundtrack to a comedy concert film along with co-stars Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer.

Said Mr. Harvey on Saturday: “The majority of his core fan base will remember that when they paid their money to see Bernie Mac … he gave them their money’s worth.”

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