His StoryTo his fans and a world that adored him, he was comedian Bernie Mac. But his real name was Bernard Jeffery McCullough born October 5, 1957 as the second child of Mary McCullough and Jeffery Harrison, who had already made their life transition. Bernard or “Beanie”, as he was affectionately named, grew up in the gang-ridden Englewood Community of Chicago. Always being a leader and not a follower, however, he gained the respect of most of the gang members without ever joining. He was forever the clown and always known for making people laugh. He accepted Jesus Christ at a young age and attended Burning Bush Missionary Baptist Church.
Bernard attended Chicago Vocational High School, where he met the love of his life, Rhonda Gore. They dated for two years before they were married on September 17, 1977. The following year they welcomed their daughter, Je’Niece.
At the very young age of four, Bernard realized his life’s purpose. He felt a passion to bring laughter to the world. His motivation? He was awoken by seeing his mother laugh at Bill Cosby in the midst of crying and professed “Mama I’m gonna be a comedian so maybe you never have to cry again.”
Bernard took on many different jobs prior to being recognized in his comedy career. Before pursuing comedy full time, he would be a truck driver, restaurant manager, mover, basketball coach, and Wonder Bread delivery man among other things.
His big break came in 1990 when he won first place with a remarkable performance in the Miller Lite Comedy Search. From that point, his popularity spread, and he garnered attention prompting Russell Simmons to give him a spot on his groundbreaking show Def Comedy Jam. Bernard’s first stage appearance was so well received he was invited back to perform a second time. From that moment on, the Mac Man was a phenomenon. He would soon go on tour as the opening act for Chaka Khan, Barry White, the Whispers and many other performers.
Bernie made his film debut with the release of Mo’ Money in 1992. His breakthrough performance, however, came in his role as Pastor Cleaver in Ice Cube’s hit movie, Friday (1995). Following that role, he went on to work on many other films. His credits include Who’s The Man (1993), Above The Rim, House Party 3 (1994); Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood (???), Get On The Bus (1996); B.A.P.S., Booty Call, How To Be A Player (1998); Life (1999); Head Of State, Ocean’s II, What’s The Worst That Could Happen (2001); Bad Santa, Charlie’s Angles Full Throttle (2003); Mr. 3000, Ocean 12 (2004); Guess Who (2005); Ocean’s 13, Pride and Transformers (2007). He will be seen this year in his final films, Old Dogs, Soul Men and Madagascar 3.
He even managed to add “Author” to his list of life accomplishments, penning two autobiographical books: “I Ain’t Scared Of You” and “Maybe You Never Cry Again.”
In 2000, Bernie would garner even more attention by touring the country as one of “The Original Kings Of Comedy”, along with Cedric The Entertainer, D.L. Hughley and Steve Harvey. Prompted by his joke of being the only member without a television show, Fox offered him a deal. The Bernie Mac Show, which was loosely based on his own life, premiered in 2001 and went on to make Bernie a great success. The Bernie Mac Show garnered him a Peabody Award, NAACP Image Award and several Emmy Nominations. His character, “Uncle Bernie” was even ranked #47 in TV Guide’s List of the “50 Greatest TV Dads Of All Time.”
Bernie appeared publicly in Chicago speaking to young people at Crane High School. He sparked a bit of controversy by telling a somewhat racial joke at a fundraiser for then Presidential hopeful, Barack Obama. However, true to his own self, Bernie’s response was simple, “It was joke, if you don’t like it, don’t laugh.”
Bernie was a true Chicagoan who loved his city and continued to live in his beloved city even when his celebrity grew. His passion for Chicago and young people prompted him to contribute to his community and further involve himself with Chicago Public Schools and other Youth Organizations. Just prior to his passing, he decided to retire from stand up comedy and focus solely on acting and producing projects.
Comedian. Actor. Producer. Author. Humanitarian. Husband. Father. Grandfather. And Friend. Bernie had a huge heart that he shared with the world. He shared his gift of laughter with all that knew him, and on August 9, 2008, the Lord called him home. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. In his own words “I don’t wanna be no star because stars fall. I do what I do and I rise.” And he most certainly did!