Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh as well as connect with him. For Mr. Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a stand-up 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.
Mr. Mac died Saturday morning from complications of 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 Ocean's co-star George Clooney.
Mr. 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.
Mr. 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.
But his career and comic identity were forged in television. 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.
Mr. 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,“ he implored, 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 Mr. Mac was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy.