Bernie Mac’s Homegoing Service

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Hat Tip: By Kelly Carter and Mary Owen, Chicago Tribune

Thousands of fans of late comedian Bernie Mac streamed into a South Side memorial service Saturday to hear Hollywood and political celebrities remember a Chicagoan who made people laugh on both TV and the big screen.

Mac’s fellow “Original Kings of Comedy” brought the house down as they broke down in tears, unable to contain their grief. In the same sentence, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey and D.L. Hughley would flip a joke, causing the crowd to scream in laughter.

“This dude is a very popular guy,” Cedric said of Mac. “You know y’all were like `let me get four tickets to the funeral!’ He’s still the hottest ticket in town.”

Hughley recalled Mac’s well-known taste in clothes. “Bernie would wear colors that crayon hadn’t even invented,” he said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson told the audience “Bernie Mac is a serious funnyman” who loved his family and cared about the tomorrow’s youth. Jackson recalled that Mac recently told students at Crane High School that they should “live above their circumstances” and not “self-destruct.”

“Between birth and death is a dash,” Jackson said. “But between that dash between birth and death, he made a statement.”

Mac, a 50-year-old funnyman, died a week ago from complications due to pneumonia after being hospitalized at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in tissue, most often in the lungs.

Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Barack Obama. Rep. Maxine Waters and the O’Jays sent their condolences.

“Michelle and I were so deeply sad to hear about your loss. … He … (made) us laugh and laugh hard,” read Obama’s statement.

Obama went on to write that Mac could say things others couldn’t. “Bernie Mac will be sorely missed,” he wrote.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson is scheduled to speak in the second hour of the service, organizers said. Jackson is set to star with Mac and singer Isaac Hayes, who also died last weekend, in the December movie “Soul Man.”

Mayor Richard Daley recalled Mac coming to City Hall a few weeks ago to take photos with employees. Mac wanted to talk about the 2016 Olympics, but more importantly, recent gun violence against the city’s youth, Daley said.

“He represented Chicago in a way (that) he knew the street, he knew the people and that’s why he’s the king of comedy,” Daley said. “He wanted to do something personally to get children away from the life of violence … he had a heart and passion … That’s why as the king of comedy, he never lost his soul in Chicago.”

Actor Andy Garcia, who starred with Mac in “Ocean’s 11,” sent along remarks, saying “I’ll see you upstairs.” Don Cheadle, another actor from that film, was in attendance.

Comic and actor Chris Rock also took the stage.

As part of the acknowledgments, they aired a tribute to both Mac and Hayes, playing snippets of some of Mac’s famous comedy routines — the profanity was bleeped out — over some of Hayes’ more famous compositions.

Inside the church, rows of burgundy-colored soft cushion chairs were set up in front of the stage. On either side of the stage, two large projector screens flashed photos of Bernie Mac’s life. The photos showed film stills from Mac’s career, red carpet photos from events like the Golden Globes and private moments with friends and family members.

Large floral arrangements adorned the pulpit, and boxes of tissues were placed sporadically throughout the worship hall while piped-in gospel music boomed from speakers. “When I Call on Jesus” was one of the songs played. Some fans who were seated in the permanent pews — the front rows were reserved for friends and family — wore silk-screened t-shirts printed with Mac’s face.

The crowd inside cheered and clapped when new celebrities arrived. People took photos and hugged celebrities that they were able to call over.

Some people slept outside overnight to guarantee a place inside the 10,000-seat House of Hope at 752 E. 114th St. Doors opened at 10:30 a.m. for a memorial that began about a half-hour after its scheduled noon start.

People caravaned to the event and others arrived in chartered or school buses. Traffic backed up on the Dan Ryan at the 115th Street exit.

Out in the nearly-full parking lot, vendors sold t-shirts that read “In memory of Bernie Mac” for $10.

“This shows support … from the whole Chicago area and how much he will be missed,” said Pamela Gordon of Chicago, one of hundreds of people who lined up hours before the memorial started.

“He was a good man, a beautiful husband and he was real,” she added. “And he was handsome, honey.”

Vera Gordon said she came to pay tribute to the comedian who made her mother, who suffers from dementia, laugh.

“She watched the `Bernie Mac Show’ every night,” Vera Gordon said of her mother, Margaret Berston, 79. “She would just sit there and laugh. You could see the sadness when I told her. I came here to represent my mother.”

She said Mac had a gift for highlighting and shining humor on life’s most simple interactions and challenges. “He was very special,” she said. “It’s like God sent him here on a mission. He left something here that will never be forgotten.”

Joseph Gilmore, 35, of Chicago, said Mac was like family.

“Him dying was like losing an uncle or brother,” said Gilmore, who remembers seeing Mac perform stand-up at the Chicago Theatre 15 years ago. “He made himself very personal with the people he was entertaining.”

Bernie Mac’s late-breaking but rising career included a self-titled TV series that ran for several years and movie roles in “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Transformers.”

D.L. Hughley’s remarks at the funeral:

Cedric the Entertainer’s remarks at the funeral:

Bernie Mac 1957-2008

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Hat Tip: Frazier Moore, Associated Press

Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh as well as connect with him. For Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a standup comedian, in films including the casino heist caper “Ocean’s Eleven” and his acclaimed sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show.”

Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal — befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx as well as Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.

Mac died Saturday 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.

“The world just got a little less funny,” said “Oceans” co-star George Clooney.

Don Cheadle, another member of the “Oceans” gang, concurred: “This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie. He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed, but heaven just got funnier.”

“This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie,” said Don Cheadle, a member of the “Oceans” gang. “He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed but heaven just got funnier.”

Mac 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 his publicist said was not related to the disease.

Recently, Mac’s brand of comedy caught him flack when he was heckled during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama.

Toward the end of a 10-minute standup routine, Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity, and used occasional crude language. Obama took the stage about 15 minutes later, implored Mac to “clean up your act next time,” then let him off the hook, adding: “By the way, I’m just messing with you, man.”

Even so, Obama’s campaign later issued a rebuke, saying the senator “doesn’t condone these statements and believes what was said was inappropriate.”

But 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, telling jokes for spare change on subways, 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 comedy stars to a wider audience.

“The majority of his core fan base will remember that when they paid their money to see Bernie Mac … he gave them their money’s worth,” Steve Harvey, one of his co-stars in “Original Kings,” told CNN on Saturday.

Mac went on to star in the hugely popular “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, playing a gaming-table dealer who was in on the heist. Carl Reiner, who also appeared in the “Ocean’s” films, said Saturday he was “in utter shock” because he thought Mac’s health was improving.

“He was just so alive,” Reiner said. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Mac and Ashton Kutcher topped the box office in 2005’s “Guess Who,” a comedy remake of the classic Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Mac played the 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.”

But his career and comic identity were forged in television.

In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in “Moesha,” the UPN network comedy starring pop star Brandy. The critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox television series “The Bernie Mac Show,” about a child-averse couple who suddenly are saddled with three children.

Mac mined laughs from the universal frustrations of parenting, often breaking the “fourth wall” to address the camera throughout the series that aired from 2001 to 2006. “C’mon, America,” implored Mac, in character as the put-upon dad. “When I say I wanna kill those kids, YOU know what I mean.”

The series won a Peabody Award in 2002, and Mac was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy. In real life, he was “the king of his household” — very much like his character on that series, his daughter, Je’niece Childress, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

“But television handcuffs you, man,” he said in a 2001 Associated Press interview before the show had premiered. “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.

Chicago music producer Carolyn Albritton said she was Bernie Mac’s first manager, having met him in 1991 at Chicago’s Cotton Club where she hosted an open-mike night. He was an immediate hit, Albritton said Saturday, and he asked her to help guide his career.

“From very early on I thought he was destined for success,” Albritton said. “He never lost track of where he came from, and he’d often use real life experiences, his family, his friends, in his routine. After he made it, he stayed a very humble man. His family was the most important thing in the world to him.”

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

“I’m going to still do my producing, my films, but I want to enjoy my life a little bit,” Mac told Letterman. “I missed a lot of things, you know. I was a street performer for two years. I went into clubs in 1977.”

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 — eating bologna for dinner — and a strict, no-nonsense upbringing.

“I came from a place where there wasn’t a lot of joy,” Mac told the AP in 2001. “I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn’t a lot of things to laugh about.”

Mac’s mother died of cancer when he was 16. In his book, Mac said she was a support for him and told him he would surprise everyone when he grew up.

“Woman believed in me,” he wrote. “She believed in me long before I believed.”

Mac’s death Saturday coincided with the annual Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago, a major event in the predominantly black South Side that the comedian had previously attended.