Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCollough in 1957 and raised in the South Side of Chicago; his mother died of cancer when he was a teenager. Mac, a devout fan of the Chicago White Sox, is said to have begun performing comedy shows in high school and to have started performing professionally in Chicago when he was 19. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Mac paid his dues as a comedian, working a string of odd jobs throughout his 20s, such as furniture mover. In Chicago, he was known to perform in local parks or on the platforms for the citys trains, and he was a regular at the Regal Theater and the Cotton Club. Some of his early mainstream breakthroughs came through cable network HBO. Mac was a performer on the networks “Def Comedy Jam,” which launched in 1992, and later had a short-lived late-night talk show (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
After his appearances on “Def Comedy Jam,” Hollywood took note of Macs in-your-face comedy. His first film role was in 1992, a bit part in Mo Money. In 1995, Mac scored the role of Pastor Clever in what would become a cult favorite, Friday. More movies followed, including Spike Lees Get on the Bus (1996).
Pictured: Bernie Mac, left, Chris Tucker and Ice Cube in “Friday.” (Nicole Goode / New Line)
Starting in 1996, Mac began making regular appearances on the TV series Moesha. Bigger things were just around the corner. (Fox)
A king of comedy
If Mac wasnt a household name yet, he became one in 2000, when he appeared alongside Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer in the Spike Lee concert film The Original Kings of Comedy. In the film, Mac telegraphed his ambitions: “Do I have a television show? Nah.... Why? ‘Cause you scared of me, scared I’m a say something.
Pictured: Mac, left, Harvey, Hughley and Cedric the Entertainer. (Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
While snaring roles in major films such as Oceans 11, Mac was given his own prime-time series on Fox, The Bernie Mac Show. Mac, playing a fortysomething father, became a sort of updated Dobie Gillis, turning to the camera to offer direct and unconventional parenting advice. The show premiered to 11.4 million viewers and went on to score two Emmy nominations. In 2002, the series won a Peabody Award. (Fox)
The Bernie Mac Show went off the air in 2005. The shows ratings had declined, and Mac was receiving more lucrative film offers. Yet his health was also a factor. Mac later revealed that he suffered from sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in tissue, most often in the lungs.
Yet Mac continued to appear in films after the series ended, including Guess Who in 2005 and Oceans Thirteen in 2007.
Pictured: George Clooney, left, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould and Bernie Mac in “Ocean’s Thirteen.” (Melinda Sue Gordon)
No more stand-up
In 2007 Mac said he was going to retire from stand-up after shooting the comedy film The Whole Truth, Nothing but the Truth, So Help Me Mac. He said he was going to focus on his film career. In addition to Ocean’s Thirteen, he appeared in Pride and Transformers in 2007.
Soul Men, with Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, is scheduled to be released this year. Due in 2009 is Old Dogs, which also stars Robin Williams. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)
Bernie Mac: 1957 2008
Mac died Aug. 9, 2008. The performer, 50, had been hospitalized and treated for pneumonia for about a week before that at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. He is survived by his wife, Rhonda McCullough; their daughter, Je’Niece; a son-in-law; and a granddaughter, Jasmine. (Associated Press)