“I ain’t scared of you!” From the moment Bernie Mac uttered that statement, staring down a raucous “Def Comedy Jam” audience with a menacing scowl and bulging eyes, he had Black America’s funny bone on lock. In his own special and hilarious way, Mac reminded the world that there was truly nothing to fear but fear itself.
He died from complications of pneumonia early Saturday, August 9, at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Mac, 50, had suffered from sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that often affects the lungs. He had said the condition had gone into remission in 2005. Many believe the former delivery truck driver and community athletic director met with overnight success. But the Chicago-born funnyman began grinding on the local comedy circuit more than 30 years ago, producing a weekly variety show at his hometown’s Regal Theater. It wasn’t until he won a Miller Lite Comedy Search, which netted him an opening slot for Redd Foxx and Dionne Warwick, that his career gained momentum.
Best known for that playfully intimidating delivery, reminiscent of the late great comic Robin Harris, Mac went on to success on the big and small screens, particularly with his Emmy- and Golden Globe–nominated syndicated sitcom The Bernie Mac Show and his breakout performance in Spike Lee’s concert documentary “The Original Kings of Comedy” with Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey and D.L. Hughley. Mac made his mark in a number of diverse films and couldn’t be pigeonholed, whether acting as part of the ensemble cast of “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Twelve” and “Thirteen” alongside George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt; remaking a classic in “Guess Who;” fighting for good next to such femme fatales as Cameron Diaz in “Charlie’s Angels;” or getting political in “Head of State” with fellow comedian Chris Rock. Mac’s final screen appearance is in the film “Soul Men,” scheduled for release this fall. In a touching quirk of fate, his cast mate, Isaac Hayes, died Sunday, August 10.
A public memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, August 16, at the 10,000-seat House of Hope, 752 E. 114th St., in Chicago. Donations in his honor may be sent to the Bernie Mac Foundation for Sarcoidosis, 40 E. 9th St., Suite 601, Chicago, IL 60605.