Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, otherwise known as Bernie Mac, began his career with stand up comedy. He went on from making people laugh in arenas to making them laugh around the world.
His inspiration to make people laugh had come from his mother. “That’s what I want to be, Mama, a comedian,” he recalled telling his mother, who was in stitches laughing over a Bill Cosby programme. Married for more than 30 years, Mac largely shunned life in Hollywood, choosing to live in Chicago, the place of his birth and where he was discovered.
Mac started as a stand-up comedian in Chicagos Cotton Pickin’ Club where he won the Miller Lite Comedy Search at the age of 32, at which point his popularity as a comedian began to grow.
An appearance on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam was the spark that ignited his career in stand up and thrust him in the spotlight and a short-lived talk show later, he was working his way into films. His big break was the role of Pastor Clever in the 1995 comedy hit, Friday. A series of television and film appearances followed and it just wasn’t the black audience that loved him, Mac was one of the few coloured actors who broke through into mainstream entertainment, appearing in the Ocean’s 11 trilogy and a Charlie’s Angels sequel. It was television that he found a new audience with The Bernie Mac Show, for which he was nominated an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
In 2003, he also turned in an impressive performance in a small but important role as Gin, the Store Dick in Bad Santa. He also starred in Guess Who?, a comedic remake of the film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He also made an appearance in the 2007 film, Transformers, as the car salesman Bobby Bolivia.
Tributes from co-stars have been pouring as the news of his death spread.
“The world just got a little less funny,” says Ocean’s 11 series co-star George Clooney. “This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie,” added Don Cheadle, another Ocean’s co-star, “but heaven just got funnier.”
“He was just so alive. I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Comedian Carl Reiner. He added that he was “in utter shock.”
“I feel blessed to have shared years of friendship with Bernie Mac,” said Samuel L. Jackson, who recently completed filming the musical comedy Soul Men with the star. “My sincere prayer is that his family will be comforted by the warmth of love from all of us who knew and respected this man.”
Luke Wilson, Mac’s co-star in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, said, “He couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He just seemed like a real family man and just a nice guy on the set, just very kind of normal guy.”
Brad Pitt also paid his respects, “I lament the loss of a ferociously funny and hardcore family man. My thoughts are with Rhonda and their family.”
Bernie Mac died aged 50 on August 9, 2008, after being admitted to a hospital with a reported case of pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Rhonda, a daughter and a granddaughter.