An edgy comic who skyrocketed to comedy fame with his memorably side-splitting appearance in Spike Lee's The Original Kings of Comedy, Bernie Mac may have seemed an unlikely candidate for a television sitcom, but with the debut of The Bernie Mac Show, the inventive comedian began on a high note, leaving many pondering the apparent overnight success of the comedian who had ostensibly come from nowhere to become a ubiquitous presence.
Born Bernard Jeffrey McCullough in Chicago, IL, Mac was a member of a large extended family living under one roof, which provided the energetic youngster with plenty of fuel for refining his ability to perform dead-on impressions and humorously recall memorable family occurrences. Time spent as a gopher for performers at the Regal Theater also served as a primer for his showbiz aspirations (as well as a cautionary warning of the destructive temptations that go along with fame). Mac's first experiences with standup came at the age of eight, when he performed a routine about his grandparents at the dinner table in front of the congregation at church. Though it resulted in some strict reprimanding from his grandmother, he had the audience feeding out of his palm and the young impressionist quickly had the epiphany that humor meant more to him than the sting of discipline. From that point on, Mac refined and developed his comic abilities on the tracks of Chicago's El trains and in local parks. Though he earned a modest keep from his public performances, Mac craved the legitimacy of the club circuit and he began to perform professionally in 1977.
After early film work -- including memorable appearances in Above the Rim (1994) and The Walking Dead (1995), which followed on the heels of his big-screen debut in 1992's Mo' Money -- Mac was offered and appeared in the television series Midnight Mac in 1995. Hesitation as to the neutering of his material made the comedian leery of television, and the show didn't last. The comic actor earned more attention when he turned up frequently the following year in television's Moesha, though mainstream acceptance was still four years and numerous bit film parts away.
Following The Original Kings of Comedy, Mac began to develop an idea for a sitcom that revolved around similar family experiences and retained the edge that had initially shocked his audiences into laughter. In 2001, he debuted the family sitcom The Bernie Mac Show, and it was a success, running for five seasons. 2001 would indeed prove to be the year of the Mac as he also took on a substantial role in director Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's 11. He reprised that character in the two Ocean's sequels, as well as lead roles as a vice presidential candidate in the Chris Rock political satire Head of State and as a washed-up baseball player in 2004's Mr. 3000. 2007 saw Mac in a more serious role as a kindly janitor in the inspirational sports drama Pride. Upon his death in August 2008 of complications from pneumonia, Soul Men, in which he stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson as a soul singer embarking on a reunion tour, had yet to hit theaters.