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Actor And Comedian Bernie Mac Dies At Age 50

CHICAGO (CBS) ―

The laughter is silenced on Saturday after news that actor and comedian Bernie Mac died.

Bernie Mac's publicist says the Chicago native died of complications from pneumonia. Celebrities and fans alike are now remembering the star who made it to the highest levels of Hollywood despite his poor childhood on the South Side.

CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot reports.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Stella Foster broke the story about the Chicago native's death.

"I'm still emotional about it, because I loved Bernie," she said. "I was just like, one of his biggest fans. He was just a phenomenal talent and the fact that we have lost this great superstar, who is straight out of Englewood, South Side, just like me. We grew up like, three blocks away from each other."

Mac, was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on October 5, 1957 in Chicago. He often spoke of growing up poor.

"…You can still rise above your environment and still become somebody and do good in the world," Foster added.

Mac won a Peabody Award for his critically acclaimed "The Bernie Mac Show."

He appeared on the big screen in nearly 40 films – among them, the 'Ocean's" franchise.

"His legacy will be, something that he told me several times himself, and that is 'never give up,'" said CBS 2 entertainment reporter Bill Zwecker.

Zwecker says what many don't know is Mac's rise to stardom began relatively late in life.

"He worked a lot of different jobs and was doing comedy on the streets and small clubs," Zwecker said. "He was well into his 30s before his career took off."

Mac's comedic style at times drew criticism. He was heckled during a surprise appearance at a fundraiser for Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama last month.

"In the broader picture, he was really a strong, strong comedy star," Zwecker said.

And a die-hard supporter of his favorite Chicago sports team – the Chicago White Sox.

Many who knew the man billed as a comedic genius, were at the 79th annual Bud Billiken Parade. The event was dedicated in Mac's memory.

"I thank God, he gave us him as long as he was here," said actor/comedian Tyler Perry. "I think this is a fitting tribute to who he was."

"Bernie's spirit is throughout this entire parade. He was Chicago," said comedienne Sheryl Underwood. "When Bernie made it, we all made it."

Mac's friend, George Daniel said if he could say one more thing to his friend, it would be: "Job well done, Bernie – job well done."

Bernie Mac leaves behind his wife of 31 years and a daughter. He also recently became a grandfather. He was 50-years-old.

Mac had fans across the globe, but none more proud than here in Chicago. Saturday morning, several expressed their condolences.

"He will be missed, he was a great comedian – condolences out to the family," said Mac fan Tara Taylor.

Fan and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member Joel Johnson said, "Our prayers are without Bernie Mac. One of our brothers is a family member of Bernie Mac and we just like to send out love and support to his family at this time of their bereavement."

Celebrities who worked with Mac are also expressing their grief. "Ocean's" star George Clooney said, "The world just got a little less funny." 

Don Cheadle, another member of the "Oceans" 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."

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.

A public memorial service is planned for Mac on August 16 at the House of Hope on Chicago's South Side at noon.

Mac's Legacy
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 as well as Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.

Despite controversy or difficulties, in his words, Mac was always a performer.

"Wherever I am, I have to play," he said in 2002. "I have to put on a good show."

Mac worked his way to Hollywood success 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."

He was one of "The Original Kings of Comedy" in the 2000 documentary of that title that brought a new generation of black standup comedy stars to a wider audience.

"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.

Mac went on to star in the hugely popular "Ocean's Eleven" franchise with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, playing a gaming-table dealer who was in on the heist. Carl Reiner, who also appeared in the "Ocean's" films, said Saturday he was "in utter shock" because he thought Mac's health was improving.

"He was just so alive," Reiner said. "I can't believe he's gone."

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?" Mac played the dad who's shocked that his daughter is marrying a white man.

Mac also had starring roles in "Bad Santa," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "Transformers."

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. The critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox television series "The Bernie Mac Show," about a child-averse couple who suddenly are saddled with three children.

Mac mined laughs from the universal frustrations of parenting, often breaking the "fourth wall" to address the camera throughout the series that aired from 2001 to 2006. "C'mon, America," implored Mac, in character as the put-upon dad. "When I say I wanna kill those kids, YOU know what I mean."

The series got Mac nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. In real life, he was "the king of his household" -- very much like his character on that series, his daughter, Je'niece Childress, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

"But television handcuffs you, man," he said in a 2001 Associated Press interview before the show had premiered. "Now everyone telling me what I CAN'T do, what I CAN say, what I SHOULD do, and asking, `Are blacks gonna be mad at you? Are whites gonna accept you?"'

He also was nominated for a Grammy award for best comedy album in 2001 along with his "The Original Kings of Comedy" co-stars Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric The Entertainer.

Chicago music producer Carolyn Albritton said she was Bernie Mac's first manager, having met him in 1991 at Chicago's Cotton Club where she hosted an open-mike night. He was an immediate hit, Albritton said Saturday, and he asked her to help guide his career.

"From very early on I thought he was destined for success," Albritton said. "He never lost track of where he came from, and he'd often use real life experiences, his family, his friends, in his routine. After he made it, he stayed a very humble man. His family was the most important thing in the world to him."

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."

Mac grew up on the city's South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church.

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'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."

"It's truly the passing of one of our favorite sons," said Paula Robinson, president of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area. "He was extremely innovative in putting his life experiences in comedic form and doing it without vulgarity.

"He was an ambassador of Chicago's black community, and the national black community at large."

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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