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Bernie Mac was born to make others laugh. The stand-ups, the blockbuster movies, the successful television sit-com. That was how the world knew and experienced Bernie Mac. Funny. Hilarious. Gut-busting. The comedian’s sense of humor became not only

Bernie Mac was born to make others laugh. The stand-ups, the blockbuster movies, the successful television sitcom. That was how the world knew and experienced Bernie Mac. Funny. Hilarious. Gut busting. The comedian’s sense of humor became not only his bread and butter, but it was the Chicago native’s God-given gift that propelled him to stardom in entertainment comedy.

Bernie Mac was a king of comedy. But offstage and away from movie and television sets, Bernard Jeffrey McCullough was the “consummate family man,” according to his family.

He died Saturday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital due to complications from pneumonia. Born Oct. 5, 1957, Bernie Mac was 50 years old. His death came as a surprise because days before he died, his publicist, Danica Smith, reported that Mac was responding well to treatments and would be released from the hospital in the coming weeks. The comedian suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease, but said the condition went into remission in 2005.

d_1.jpg His publicist said his recent bout with pneumonia was unrelated to the disease. But his sister-in-law and family spokesperson, Mary Ann Grossett, told the Defender that rather than focusing on how Bernie Mac died, the family is praising and celebrating how the devoted husband and father lived. She described a man who was passionate about his family and who always put his family first.

Never “Bernie Mac” at home, Grossett said he checked his celebrity at the door and never let it cross the threshold of his home.

“There was a clear line between ‘Bernard’ and ‘Bernie Mac,’” Grossett said. Her sister, Rhonda McCullough, who had been married to Mac for 30 years, always referred to her husband as Bernard.

She “never called him Bernie Mac. Not one time,” Grossett said of her sister. And though Mac had married into the family, the bond was seamless and tight.

“I wasn’t a fan of his. I was his sister, and he was my brother,” Grossett said.

Like time and effort poured into his comedic career, which spanned nearly two decades, Grossett said he applied that same commitment, perseverance and loyalty to his family. She became emotional describing how much the family will miss their king of the castle, the man Grossett said believed in “the spirit of family.”

Though his work in the entertainment industry took him across the country and around the world and kept him away from his southwest suburban home most of the time, Mac was never more than a phone call away from his family.

“Bernard was so committed to family that we could call him wherever he was anywhere in the world and could speak to him, personally,” Grossett said.

An entertainment standout himself, Mac worked alongside some of the industry’s best. But his success was progressive. Described by his family as innately funny, Mac told jokes for spare change as a youngster. As an aspiring stand-up comedian, he was part of comedy shows and competitions in local nightclubs and other venues. But it was his performance on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam that gave his career wings.

He hit the big screen playing small rolls before landing the starring role in such films as Mr. 3000 and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. His other early films include The Player’s Club, Ice Cube’s Friday and Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus. In 2000, he and fellow comedians D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey took funny to new heights with the Kings of Comedy tour, that was later released on DVD. A year later, the Bernie Mac Show debuted on Fox. The sitcom ran from 2001-2006 and won Mac four NAACP Image Awards for outstanding comedy actor. The Emmy-nominated show is now in syndication.

In recent years, Mac starred in the Oceans series with veteran actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt. His yet-to-be-released film, Soul Men, had Mac starring with music dynamo Isaac Hayes. Ironically, Hayes died at his home in Memphis, a day after Mac died.

Growing up on the South Side, Rhonda and Bernie Mac met as teenagers while both were students at Chicago Vocational High School. After a four-year courtship, the two married Sept. 17, 1977.

Speaking on behalf of Rhonda, Grossett said her sister will miss her husband’s sense of humor “because that is what charmed her.” It was the funny man’s jokes and colorful comedic style that drew the two together.

“They took this journey together,” a tearful Grossett recalled of the couple and the sacrifices she said they made as young nuptials. “She kept him grounded and humble,” Grossett said of her sister. In a conversation with her younger sister, Grossett said Rhonda remarked that her husband and best friend had left her “ok.”

A memorial service for Bernie Mac is scheduled for noon on Saturday at the House of Hope church, 752 E. 114th St. The couple’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Trunnell D. Felder of New Faith Baptist Church, will deliver Bernie Mac’s eulogy. The services are open to the public. Bernie Mac is survived by his wife of 30 years, Rhonda, his daughter Ja’Niece, and granddaughter Jasmine.

Rhonda Gillespie can be reached via e-mail at rgillespie@chicagodefender.com.

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Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

To see photos from Bernie Mac’s memorial service, click here.

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