Pneumonia claims popular TV, film actor
Bernie Mac, who won a Peabody for his Fox comedy and starred in hit features such as “Ocean’s Eleven,” died Saturday morning from complications due to pneumonia.
Mac was 50. The actor and comedian died in a Chicago hospital, where he’d been fighting pneumonia since early last week. His publicist, Danica Smith, said no other details were available and asked that his family be given privacy.
Smith had earlier told reporters that he had improved and was expected to make a full recovery.
Mac, whose death shocked friends and fans alike, had been plotting a return to primetime in the last months of his life.
The actor and comedian had starred in the pilot “Starting Under,” from scribe Bruce Helford, for Fox last spring. The network passed on the comedy, from Warner Bros. TV, but was eager to develop another half-hour with Mac. Development on the project was already under way, the network said over the weekend.
His previous Fox sitcom, “The Bernie Mac Show,” ran for 104 episodes between 2001 and 2006 and made the star a household name. In film, besides “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two sequels, Mac starred last year in “Transformers.”
Mac will also be seen posthumously in the Samuel L. Jackson feature “Soul Men” and the John Travolta vehicle “Old Dogs.”
He was also well known for his part as one of “The Original Kings of Comedy,” the comedy tour — and subsequent documentary — that featured some of the top African-American standup stars of the decade.
“Bernie Mac was a gifted talent whose comedy came from an authentic and highly personal place,” Fox and 20th Century Fox TV (which produced “Bernie Mac Show”) said in a statement. “He was a tremendous live performer and a wonderful actor. Fox was proud to be the home of ‘The Bernie Mac Show.’ “
Smith said Mac’s recent hospitalization was not related to his struggles with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body’s organs. Mac had previously said the condition went into remission in 2005.
In 2004, Fox and “Bernie Mac” producer Regency TV were forced to suspend production on the show due to Mac’s illness. At first, however, the network and Mac’s reps blamed his absence on “exhaustion” — the star had just finished shooting “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Guess Who” and was doing press for “Mr. 3000” at the time. Soon after, though, Mac disclosed that his bout with sarcoidosis was to blame.
Mac eventually returned, but the show’s ratings had already been in decline at that point, and its final episode aired in April 2006.
“It was innovative, it was new, it was different, it was mine, it was my vision, it was my heart, it was my life, it was nothing fictitious, it was a true story, it was my humor,” Mac told talkshow host Tavis Smiley in 2007.
“I want to have fun. Life ain’t no dress rehearsal. I want to have fun. I’m a comedian; I ain’t no politician. So everything I do is with humor, with love. I ain’t trying to — I ain’t running for office. I ain’t running for nothing. Only thing I want to do is entertain the people, I want them to be proud when they leave and they can recite something that I said or tell a joke that I told, I’ve done my job,” he said in that interview.
Mac earned two Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nods for comedy actor for “Bernie Mac,” and the show’s creator, Larry Wilmore, won the Emmy for comedy writing for the show’s pilot.
Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957, in Chicago. He grew up on the city’s South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church.
Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on the South Side. He began doing standup 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.”
“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,” Steve Harvey, one of his co-stars in “Original Kings,” told CNN on Saturday.
His turn with Ashton Kutcher in 2005’s “Guess Who” topped the box office. It was a comedy remake of the classic Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” — with Mac as the black dad who’s shocked that his daughter is marrying a white man.
Mac also had starring roles in “Bad Santa” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.”
In the late 1990s, he appeared as “Uncle Bernie” on UPN’s “Moesha.” Then came “Bernie Mac.”
When the show launched, Variety’s review raved: “ ‘The Bernie Mac Show’ makes a strong case for the funniest family sitcom on TV. Finally getting a series of his own — he’s knocked around as a supporting player for years — this foul-mouthed man’s man with a bitter attitude and a brutally honest approach to parenthood brings to mind ‘Married … With Children’s’ Al Bundy but assumes a more convincing persona right out of the gate. … Mac reinvents the wheel here, using his warped sense of humor, buggy eyes and massive frame to intimidate and discipline some very bratty young ‘uns.”
He also was nominated for a Grammy award for comedy album in 2001 along with his “The Original Kings of Comedy” co-stars, Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer.
In 2007, Mac told David Letterman on CBS’ “Late Show” that he planned to retire soon.
“I’m going to still do my producing, my films, but I want to enjoy my life a little bit,” Mac told Letterman. “I missed a lot of things, you know. I was a street performer for two years. I went into clubs in 1977.”
In his 2004 memoir, “Maybe You Never Cry Again,” 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,” Mac told the AP in 2001. “I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn’t a lot of things to laugh about.”
Mac also frequently shared how he first decided he’d become a comedian: While watching Bill Cosby on “Ed Sullivan.” Mac said he watched his mother laugh and shed tears at the same time, and he said he realized he wanted to do the same thing.
“I said, ‘Mama, that’s what I’m going to be. I’m going to be a comedian.’ She said, ‘I believe you, son.’ I said, ‘So you’ll never cry again,’ “ he told Smiley.
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.
“Woman believed in me,” he wrote. “She believed in me long before I believed.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)