Saturday, August 9, 2008

RIP, Bernie Mac


The Associated Press reports that famed actor and comedian Bernie Mac died of pneumonia at a Chicago hospital this morning. Mac had been hospitalized with the condition since last week. He was 50.

This sad news arrives on the heels of producer Bernie Brillstein's passing, and comes as a devastating loss to the world of entertainment.

Mac always struck me as a charismatic performer with incredible resilience. I caught my first glimpse of him in 1995, when he hosted a late-night variety show, Midnight Mac, on HBO. As I recall, the taping did not go well, but Mac rolled with the gaffes like a seasoned professional. What I didn't know at the time was that he was already 38, had been active in stand-up comedy for nearly 20 years, and didn't get his first taste of fame until he won the Miller Lite Comedy Search just six years earlier. A late bloomer in a traditionally young business, he didn't stop knocking at the door to success until it opened.

He soon began popping up in movies, beginning with his role as Pastor Clever in Friday. At his best when playing authority figures, Mac possessed an uncanny ability to be both commanding and funny, a combination rarely found in any actor. Watch the scene in Bad Santa where his no-nonsense mall security chief nabs a young shoplifter.

Then in 2001, the Fox network gave him his own vehicle, The Bernie Mac Show. The show was popular among television audiences, lasting five seasons and earning Mac nominations for the Emmy and Golden Globe Award. Perhaps his most poignant moment ever captured on screen was when he received news of his beloved uncle's death in the episode "Sweet Home Chicago". The sadness in his eyes was heartbreaking and his refraining from bursting into tears for fear of looking weak to his family was genuine.

George C. Scott once remarked that he looked for a "joy of performing" quality, among others, when judging actors. The test is fair, and Mac passed it with flying colors. Even if he had never gotten his big break, Mac would still be doing stand-up comedy in his hometown of Chicago today; not out of the blind hope that he might one day be discovered, but because of the joy it brought him.

Though his life was cruelly cut short by illness, Bernie Mac leaves a legacy that deserves respect and appreciation. We must give thanks that he avoided the destructive influence of drugs, projected a wholesome image, and worked tirelessly to uphold it. He was a man of many hats: actor, comedian, father, friend. To this fan, the sum total of his achievements fits one description: inspiration.

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