Death in Hollywood: Bernie Mac, Comedian Dies at 50

August 9, 2008–Comedian actor Bernie Mac, who gained popularity for his TV sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show,” died Saturday at age 50.

Mac passed away this morning from complications due to pneumonia in a Chicago area hospital, his publicist Danica Smith said in a statement from Los Angeles. She said no other details were available and asked that his family’s privacy be respected.

The comedian suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body’s organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which was not related to the disease.

Mac’s brand of comedy was criticized during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama. Toward the end of a standup routine, Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity, and used occasional crude language, a performance that led to a rebuke from Obama’s campaign.

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.”

Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago’s South Side. He began doing standup as a child, and his film career started with a small role as a club doorman in the Damon Wayans comedy “Mo’ Money” in 1992. In 1996, he appeared in the Spike Lee drama “Get on the Bus.”

He was one of “The Original Kings of Comedy” in the 2000 documentary of that title that brought a new generation of black standup stars to a wider audience.

Mac starred in the popular “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. His turn with Ashton Kutcher in 2005’s “Guess Who” topped the box office in a comedy remake of the classic 1968 Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Mac played the black dad who’s shocked that his daughter is marrying a white man.

Mac also had starring roles in “Bad Santa,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Transformers.” In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in “Moesha,” the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy.

The comedian drew critical and popular acclaim with his Fox TV series “The Bernie Mac Show,” which aired more than 100 episodes from 2001 to 2006. The series about a man’s adventures raising his sister’s three children, won a Peabody Award in 2002. At the time, judges wrote they chose the sitcom for transcending “race and class while lifting viewers with laughter, compassion-and cool.” The show garnered Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Mac.

“Television handcuffs you, man,” he said in a 2001 interview. “Now everyone telling me what I can’t do, what I can say, what I should do, and asking, `Are blacks gonna be mad at you Are whites gonna accept you'”

He also was nominated for a Grammy award for best comedy album in 2001 along with his “The Original Kings of Comedy” co-stars, Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Cedric The Entertainer.

In 2007, Mac told David Letterman on CBS’ “Late Show” that he planned to retire soon.

Mac was born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough on Oct. 5, 1957, in Chicago. He grew up on the city’s South Side, living with his mother and grandparents. His grandfather was the deacon of a Baptist church.

In his 2004 memoir, “Maybe You Never Cry Again,” Mac wrote about having a poor childhood and a strict, no-nonsense upbringing. “I came from a place where there wasn’t a lot of joy,” Mac once said. “I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn’t a lot of things to laugh about.”