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Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 16:09 UK
Simmons tribute for Bernie Mac

Bernie Mac

Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons has told 1Xtra News that the death of comedian and actor Bernie Mac has "saddened" him and said he was an inspiration to everyone.

The 50-year-old star of films like Ocean's Eleven died in hospital on Saturday in Chicago.

Russell Simmons helped break Bernie Mac on America's mainstream comedy circuit, including him on his legendary Def Comedy Jam in 1992.

The TV series, which is still running, also launched the careers of other African-American stand-up comedians like Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker and Chris Rock.

Russell Simmons said he was gutted to hear Bernie Mac had died: "He is a person who is exactly the same age as I am and he was full of life.

"He is a guy who inspires us and makes us laugh and the next thing you know he is gone. So it was very sad for me."

Comedy roots

Before taking part in 1992's Def Comedy Jam, Bernie Mac had been a stand-up comedian in Chicago.

Russell Simmons said he stood out from the crowd because had "a style of his own and represented a kind of an attitude which came from the streets of America."

Russell Simmons

There were many people who followed him, who were inspired by him and borrowed his style and attitude

Russell Simmons pays tribute to Bernie Mac

He added: "He represented a kind of hood attitude and cultural phenomenon that was underexploited in America but had great potential.

"He was always honest and that honesty was what he exuded and what made him so great."

Bernie Mac got his big film break in rapper Ice Cube's 1995 film, Friday.

The movie also starred fellow comedian Chris Tucker and Russell Simmons says, on stage, Bernie Mac was in the same league.

He said: "I remember when comedians, in advance of his performance, were booed off and the first thing that came out of his mouth as soon as he looked at the audience was, 'I'm not scared of you mother******s.'

"He coined that phrase then and it became one of his top calling cards for his whole life.

"There were still moments when we thought he might say the wrong thing but there were still moments when we were on the edge of our seat not knowing what he was going to say next."

Hollywood success

After Friday, Bernie Mac appeared in a string of hit films like Ocean's Eleven, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Guess Who with Ashton Kutcher.

He also toured America with The Original Kings of Comedy in 2000 and starred in his own sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show.

George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould and Bernie Mac
Bernie Mac appeared in Oceans Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen
Despite all his success, Russell Simmons says he remained "a very sweet person".

"Everyone who knew him was touched by him. He was generous.

"He had a very, very, very beautiful spirit. He seemed very connected.

"For that we're all going to miss him even more than his comedy.

"He was an individual. There were many people who followed him, who were inspired by him and borrowed his style and attitude.

"He was a trailblazer and a leader and a sweetheart."

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