Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Saturday, 9 August 2008 18:13 UK

Comedian Bernie Mac dies aged 50

Bernie Mac
The comedian starred in recent trilogy of Ocean's films.

US actor and comedian Bernie Mac has died at the age of 50.

The star was best known in the UK for film roles in Ocean's Eleven, Charlie's Angels and Transformers.

But in the US, he achieved critical and popular acclaim for the long-running sitcom The Bernie Mac Show, which earned him two Emmy award nominations.

He was admitted to hospital in Chicago last week and died early on Saturday morning due to complications arising from pneumonia, his publicist said.

"We ask that his family's privacy continues to be respected," said Damica Taylor.

Comedian Carl Reiner, who appeared with Mac in Ocean's Eleven and its two sequels, said he was "in utter shock" because he thought the comedian's condition had been improving.

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


Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough in Chicago, Illinois in October 1957.

According to his uncle, there were once as many as 10 people living in the two-bedroom apartment in which he grew up.

Bernie Mac
Mac was raised by his mother and grandparents.
"We learned to entertain ourselves," he wrote in his 2003 autobiography, Maybe You Never Cry Again.

"I used to have long conversations with the living room wall."

The memoir told how, as a child, he had discovered his mother doubled up with laughter at Bill Cosby appearing on Ed Sullivan's TV show.

"'That's what I want to be, Mama, a comedian'" he recalled saying.

"Make you laugh like that, maybe you never cry again."

He began performing as a stand-up at a church dinner at the age of eight, progressing to open mic nights and a regular stint at Chicago's Cotton Club by the time he was 20.

But his success was far from immediate and along the way he worked as a janitor, furniture mover, appliance hauler, and delivery man to supplement his comedy income.

It wasn't until he was featured in the Kings of Comedy stand-up tour in 1997 - which was filmed and broadcast by HBO - that he achieved national prominence.

One of his co-stars in the show, Steve Harvey, paid tribute to the comedian on Saturday, saying: "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."

Parenting skills

Mac often attributed his dogged persistence of a comedy career to his mother who, he said, had imbued him with a strong work ethic before she died of breast cancer when he was just 16.

"Parents today don't get it," he wrote in his memoirs. "They don't want to be parents. They want to be cool. They want to be hip. They don't want to be the bad guy.

Wherever I am, I have to play. I have to put on a good show
Bernie Mac
"But guess what? Being the bad guy is your job.

"My mama knew better. She wasn't there to make me like her; she was there to shape me; she was there to make me a good person."

Mac's view of parenting was reflected in his hit TV show, which was based around a man's attempts to raise his sister's three children.

The show won a Peabody award for excellence in television in 2002. At the time, judges said they had singled it out for transcending "race and class while lifting viewers with laughter, compassion - and cool".

The sitcom, which ran for more than 100 episodes from 2001 to 2006, made Mac a household name in the US.

Bernie Mac at the premiere of Ocean's Thirteen
Mac received several awards and nominations for his TV show
"But he had been making a living from film and TV appearances for several years, starting with a small role in the Damon Wayans movie Mo' Money in 1992.

More recently, he topped the box office with Guess Who? - a remake of the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn classic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? - in 2005.

Earlier this year, he attracted a modicum of controversy after making some off-colour jokes at a fund-raiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicago native Barack Obama.

But 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."

The comedian had a history of ill health and suffered from the inflammatory lung disease sarcoidosis.

He contracted pneumonia for the first time in 2004 while filming Ocean's Twelve.

Mac later told his home newspaper The Chicago Sun-Times that the disease, which had nearly killed him, had acted as a wake-up call.

"My life was slipping away. I was missing out on so much stuff with my family, and I will never do that again," he said.

In 2007, he told US chat show host David Letterman he planned to retire from comedy.

"I'm going to still do my producing, my films, but I want to enjoy my life a little bit," he said.

Mac is survived by his wife Rhonda, daughter Je'Niece and a granddaughter.

Your tributes to Bernie Mac:

I am quite sad of the news of his death. I felt he was an extraordinary comedian and entertainer. I just loved his TV show and felt his role in the movie Pride was quite touching. I had the priviledge to work with Bernie last year on his up coming movie Old Dogs. He was extremely funny and quite the jokester off camera with Robin Williams. I know how much he will be missed and remembered by many. My deepest sympathy goes out to his family and friends.
Jason Dougherty, NYC, USA

I am saddened to hear of Bernie Mac's passing. If I were to mention ten of the funniest black comedians, Bernie Mac would appear somewhere in the top three. He was truly an inspirational character and contributed significantly to both contemporary American culture and international comedy, he will be missed dearly.
Gary Hay, Aberdeen, Scotland

It was good to see his TV show portray us Blacks in a positive light, when so much negativity about us is shown. From one South side of Chicago native to another, RIP Bernie Mac. May God be with your family and friends.
Angela, Chicago, USA

Bernie Mac was like a distant uncle to me. When I watched him on TV, I wasn't just laughing at the jokes, I was learning family and life lessons. I love you Bernie, Thanks!
Ayaliah, California, USA

God must have wanted more laughter in heaven to take Bernie so soon. I never had the pleasure to meet this giant of a comedian, but he made me laugh a lot, and he gave me insight and great feelings about how one firmly but gently and lovingly raises children. Thanks for the warm fuzzies, Bernie! Rest in peace.
Chris Smith, Kirkwood, USA

One of the great things about the Mac-man's TV show was that he made fun of himself, made fun of men trying to act cool and parents who believe they are in control. In his show, his wife was always the cool one and the smart one, and the kids were pretty clever. He never tried to make parenting look easy, but encouraged people to step up to the challenge. That is comic grace.
K Gould, Davis, California, USA

With the loss of Bernie Mac, we have lost a brilliant man of incomparable strength. As a black man, I feel a slight wobble in the foundations of our American community. We looked to Mac as an Atlas, carrying our hopes and our wonder and our joy. He understood the incredible weight of responsibility he was given to bear and bore it with such ease and simple grace. His comedy was power; it taught us and bound us together. It is with an unspeakable sadness that we bid goodbye to one of the truly original kings of comedy. Peace, Mac. Thank you Brother.
Jason, Brooklyn, New York, USA

I loved Bernie Mac, he was genious. His ability to turn something so tragic as raising your drug addictted sister's children into a a story of love and humor was genious. I saw him in the movies the Kings of Comedy and fell in love with him. Mr. Bernie Mac, I peronally will miss you so much. The world has suffered a tremedous loss. "Who you with?" Forever a fan.
Patricia Noel-Reid, New Jersey, USA

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