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Bernie Mac dies at 50

Comedian Bernie Mac died this morning in a Chicago hospital

Mac, 50, had been hospitalized for about a week at Northwestern Hospital, according to his spokeswoman. A few years ago, Mac disclosed that he suffered from sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in tissue, most often in the lungs.

Sarcoidosis—what’s that?
It’s an immune system disorder that affects tens of thousands of Americans. Symptoms include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, small red bumps on the face, arms or buttocks, red, watery eyes, and arthritis in the ankles, elbows, wrists and hands, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most cases are mild, but severe cases can cause scarring in the lungs, a complication that occurs in 20 to 25 percent of patients.

What causes it?
Typically, our bodies fight perceived threats with an inflammatory response. With sarcoidosis, this response becomes excessive and ends up producing small clumps of cells that can cluster throughout the body. Large clusters can interfere with the functioning of organs, most commonly the lungs (more than 90 percent of cases), the eyes and the skin. In addition to lung scarring, it can cause serious eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, or aching and swelling in the legs accompanied by arthritis.

Who gets it?
This is primary an illness of adults in the 20- to 40-year-old range. African-Americans are more prone to the condition than whites (the incidence rate among blacks is 35.5 cases per 100,000; among whites it’s 10.9 per 100,000). African-American women are twice as likely as African-American men to be struck with the illness.

The comic born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough could cut an imposing figure. He stood 6-foot-3, was built like a fullback and carried himself with a bouncer’s reticence. But perhaps the strongest weapon in the Chicago comedian’s arsenal was that voice, that amalgam of thought and a delivery that could rise like a tidal wave, outpace a Gatling gun and remained, to his last days, loud and unapologetic.

Mac was born in Chicago, Illinois, and was raised by a single mother, Mary, who died of cancer when Mac was sixteen. Mac attended Chicago Vocational Career Academy. The start of Mac’s career was during high school, when he would put on shows for neighborhood kids in Chicago’s south side until moving to Tampa.

He wasn’t scared, he told reporters time and again, to tell anyone what he thought, to say what others were afraid to say. That fearlessness wasn’t always welcome, considering Mac didn’t get his big break until his 30s. But when he did, the comic skyrocketed to success in stand-up, television and the big screen.

Mac started as a stand-up comedian in Chicago’s Cotton Pickin’ Club. He won the Miller Lite Comedy Search at the age of 32, at which point his popularity as a comedian began to grow. A performance on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam thrust him into the spotlight. He opened for Dionne Warwick, Redd Foxx and Natalie Cole. He also had a short-lived talk show on HBO titled Midnight Mac. Later, Mac also began acting in minor roles, and received his big break as Pastor Clever in Ice Cube’s 1995 film Friday. Following that role, Mac would also work in many other movies, and some television appearances, including Booty Call, How to Be a Player, Life and What’s the Worst That Could Happen?. Mac was one of the few African American comedic actors to be able to break out of the traditional “black comedy” genre, having roles in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven and becoming the new Bosley for the Charlie’s Angels sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In 2003, he also turned in an impressive performance in a small but important role as Gin “The Store Dick” in Bad Santa. He also starred in Guess Who?, a comedic remake of the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. He also made an appearance in the 2007 movie Transformers as the car salesman, Bobby Bolivia.

Mac was married to Rhonda McCullough in 1977. They had one daughter, Je’Niece (born 1978), who attended Xavier University of Louisiana where she received both her bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling. She has been married for three years and has one daughter, Jasmine, making Bernie Mac a grandfather.

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One response

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    August 9, 2008 at 12:38 PM

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