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Thousands attend service to celebrate life of Bernie Mac

“He’s still the hottest ticket in town,” fellow ‘King,’ Cedric the Entertainer, told a legion of fans, friends and relatives of Bernard Jeffery McCullough–Bernie Mac–Saturday during a public memorial service at a

“He’s still the hottest ticket in town,” fellow ‘King,’ Cedric the Entertainer, told a legion of fans, friends and relatives of Bernard Jeffery McCullough–Bernie Mac–Saturday during a public memorial service at a South Side church for the sharp-witted comedian.

Bernie Mac succumbed to complications of pneumonia Aug. 9.

About 6,500 people shared tears and laughter inside the House of Hope as family members and friends of Mac paid tribute to the 50-year-old South Side native during a four-hour memorial service that included singing, pictures and an audio montage of Mac’s jokes and the late Isaac Hayes’ hits. Hayes died Aug. 10 from a stroke.

A letter by Mac’s daughter, who was described as his “heartthrob,” was read to the crowd by a family friend.

It read, in part: “I had you for 30 years. I really now know what I’ll be missing in my life. You are the first man I have ever loved. The very large shoes you left behind will never be filled by another. If the world never knew you as Bernie Mac, I would still be proud. I’m proud I was able to make you a grandfather.”

One of Mac’s cousins said when the comedian came around, there was no doubt he was the life of the party. Mac made sure that everyone was going to have a good time. And he often used his family to practice new material on.

“He had the whole McCullough family in tears constantly. He practiced his acts and characters on us. We have some great memories,” said his cousin, Kimberley Bonner.

Another relative said while Mac died young, he was able to reach his 50th birthday last October and celebrate it in a big way with his entire family.

During the festivities, the family presented Mac with a posthumous resolution describing his undying loyalty and compassion for his family and those around him. The proclamation stated he was a “disciple” to the sick and shut-in, and he was praised for “following his calling and sharing his wit and gifts” with the world.

“He was the official party master of our family,” his sister-in-law, Mary Ann Grossett, said.

Mayor Richard M. Daley met with Mac a few weeks prior to his death. He recalled the passion the comedian had for the city and its children.

“He wanted to help get the children away from a life of crime and violence. That’s why he’s the king of comedy. He never lost his soul in Chicago,” Daley said.

It was that commitment to his family and his love for Chicago that his friends remembered most about Mac. He was repeatedly referred to as a “family man” by all who took the dais.

“All he talked about was his family and Chicago. He loved this city. Milt Trainer’s, Harold’s Chicken, stepping. He loved Chicago,” comedian D.L. Hughley said before breaking down in tears.

Hughley was joined onstage by Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey. The three, along with Mac, appeared in the “Kings of Comedy” tour in 2000. Hughley said Mac was never afraid to speak his mind nor did he care what others thought about him. It was that resolve that helped shape Hughley into the performer he is today, the actor/comedian said.

“He stood on his own terms. He always said, ‘I don’t care if you like me. I like me.’ I have never been more influenced by another comedian. I never got a chance to tell him I loved him,” a barely audible and crying Hughley said.

Harvey could barely speak once he took the podium. Through a trembling voice he said he didn’t want to speak at the service, but Rhonda, Mac’s wife, requested that all the “kings” say a few words.

“It’s tough when you tell jokes for a living, but sometimes it just ain’t funny,” Harvey said after pausing a few times to regain composure. “He was a family man. He talked about them all the time.” Harvey said Mac was the driving force behind the cast of ‘Kings’ praying each night before they hit the stage.

However, once they took the stage, “It seemed like we didn’t know God at all,” Harvey quipped.

Mac’s television nephew, Jeremy Suarez, said the comedian was a great mentor and teacher to him, adding that Mac referred to him as his “Don Knotts,” or his right-hand man. “He never missed a birthday, even after the show was over. We were not his co-stars but part of his family. That’s how he treated us,” Suarez said.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson remembered his conversations with Mac years ago, about each of them achieving their goals and always making sure they gave back to their communities. Jackson said Mac never forgot his Chicago roots and never let his celebrity status get in the way.

“He was so open and happy about his celebrity. He always wanted to make his fans comfortable. He never lost being that kid from Chicago,” recalled Jackson who will also appear in the upcoming movie, “Soul Man,” with Mac and Hayes.

Jackson called it a “real joy” to be on the set and work with Mac during the filming.

“I knew he had some health issues, and I would look at him. He would say, ‘I’m good, let’s go, let’s hit it,’” the actor said.

Besides those who spoke at the service, cards and letters were read to the family. Among those who sent written condolences were presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Oprah Winfrey, Ocean’s 11 star Andy Garcia, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the O’Jays and the Chicago White Sox, Mac’s favorite team.

The team delivered a personalized uniform, with a No. 1 jersey, to Mac’s wife. Singers Theresa Griffin and Rachelle Farrell brought the crowd to its feet during separate performances. Mac was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a disease that can agitate tissue, particularly in the lungs. It had been in remission for the last three years.

His bout with pneumonia was not related to the disease, his publicist said. The family asked that all donations be made at www.berniemacfoundation.org.

Kathy Chaney can be reached via e-mail at kchaney@chicagodefender.com.

Photo by Defender/Worsom Robinson (In photo: Three of the four Kings of Comedy (Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, and D.L. Hughley) at the House of Hope church, 752 E. 114th St., on August 16, 2008%uFFFD (Defender/Worsom Robinson)

To see the memorial book distributed, click here.

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

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