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> Bernie Mac dies at 50, August 9, 2008

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Posted: Aug 13 2008, 12:29 PM
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Comedian, South Sider Bernie Mac dies at 50
August 9, 2008
BY BILL ZWECKER Sun-Times Columnist
"The world just got a litttle less funny," said Oscar winner George Clooney Saturday, learning of the death of his friend and former co-star Bernie Mac.

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Comedian Bernie Mac, whose career began in Chicago's comedy clubs, died at Northwestern Memorial hospital early Saturday morning.  He was 50.
(AP file)

Clooney -- who co-starred with Mac in "Ocean's Eleven" and its two sequels -- spoke for many in Hollywood when he added: "He will be dearly missed."

Mac, 50, whose real name was Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Saturday from complications related to his battle with pneumonia. While the comedian and actor did suffer from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, his publicist Danica Smith said Mac's condition had been in remission since 2005 and his death was unrelated to that disease.

Along with Mac's legion of Chicago fans and many friends, the popular performer's death shocked his colleagues and associates in Hollywood.

"I'm just so shocked and sad today," said veteran comedian and actor Carl Reiner, who co-starred in the three "Ocean's" films with the Chicago native.

"It really hasn't sunk in. I was under the impression Bernie was improving and was going to pull through this," Reiner told the Sun-Times. "It's a terrible loss. Bernie was such a bigger-than-life personality. Even on the set of the 'Ocean's' pictures -- filled with nothing but big stars -- he was a huge presence. That says something."

"Plus, he was totally beloved by everyone -- from the biggest stars to the most junior crew members. And Bernie always seemed to know everyone's name, too." Reached at the Bud Billiken Parade Saturday, Mac's fellow "Original Kings of Comedy" colleague Steve Harvey also voiced shock.

"There is a hole in the ozone today," said Harvey. "I'm just numb. I'm totally stunned and very sad." Over the years, Mac had appeared in the parade, an important annual event for the city's African-American community -- and in his honor, Saturday's Bud Billiken Parade was dedicated to the comedian's memory.

Mac was born and raised on Chicago's South Side by his grandparents and his single mother, Mary, who died when he was 16. He went on to attend Chicago Vocational Career Academy, where he quickly gained a reputation as a natural stand-up comic -- performing his improv sketches for classmates and for kids in his neighborhood.

Yet, it would be more than a decade before Mac's stand-up comedy would launch his career in a major way.

Throughout much of his 20s, the budding comic worked as a furniture mover, UPS agent and delivery sales representative for Wonder Bread, to make a living for himself and his family. While performing at Chicago's Cotton Club, music producer Carolyn Albritton first saw Mac when she hosted an open-mic night.

"From very early on, I thought he was destined for success," Albritton, who became his first manager, told the Associated Press Saturday.

In a Sun-Times interview last year, Mac himself said he believed his tenacity made him a "stronger, better comedian and actor. I just never, ever considered giving up -- even when it looked like I'd never make it big in this business -- when people told me I shouldn't get my hopes up," he said.

The performer credited his wife and other family members -- plus the "basic good values" given him by his mother and grandmother -- as providing him with the "kind of foundation" inspiring him to keep "plugging away." Mac's first big break came in 1990 when he won the Miller Lite comedy search -- leading to popular shows like HBO's "Def Comedy Jam," roles in films like Damon Wayans' "Mo' Money," and an appearance in Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus," in 1996.

Along with the "Ocean's" films, Mac also played key roles in "Bad Santa," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," and "Transformers." But Mac told the Sun-Times in 2007: "When it's all said and done, I think I'll be remembered most for 'The Bernie Mac Show.' That was such a big part of my life. It said so many good things to so many people about what's important about family...It's something that I'm so very proud of." The show, which aired on the Fox network from 2001-2006, was a hit with audiences and critics alike. Mac was twice nominated for both Emmy and Golden Globe awards and won four NAACP Image Awards for the series, which itself was honored with the presitigious Peabody Award.

In a statement Saturday, Fox Broadcasting Company management expressed sadness, calling Mac "a gifted talent whose comedy came from an authentic and highly personal place. He was a tremendous live performer and a wonderful actor." According to his daughter, Je'Niece Childress, the man Mac played on his TV show was very true to life. "He was the king of his household," Childress said Saturday, adding her dad was "a loving grandfather" to her daughter, his only grandchild.

According to Larry Wilmore, executive producer and creator of "The Bernie Mac Show," the entertainer's lasting legacy may be "Bernie's ability to inspire others in show business, and his ability to cross over and take Def Comedy Jam mainstream ‹ to a wider audience. He was always so popular with college audiences of all kinds." Besides his daughter, Mac is survived by his wife, Rhonda, whom he married in 1977; and a granddaughter, Jasmine.

"Ye shall know them by their fruits"
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