A Tribute To Bernie Mac (and a Tip of the Hat to Isaac Hayes)

On Saturday, August 09, 2008, I had just finished feeding my newfound addiction to Toronto’s public libraries and was waiting for my subway train when one of the TV screens on the platform flashed – coldly and briefly, soon interrupted by a callous ad for something or the other – an “entertainment” news story announcing, “actor Bernie Mac, aged 50, dies from complications due to pneumonia.”

I was stunned, the air sucked out of me as I felt the sudden need to take a seat. I realize the irony in being bowled over for the death of a celebrity when a shooting at a mall or something inspires, at worst, a sinking heart and shaking head (to be fair, I’m usually a lot more shaken than that, but that’s beside the point). All I could do was stare in disbelief that someone so vibrant, energetic and hilarious could be taken – with all the advancements in medical sciences – by an age-old killer like pneumonia.

It was the second time in a matter of months that I had misjudged the dangers of such a disease. Frank Lampard’s mother – he of Chelsea FC fame, the biggest hometown rival of my “hometown” football club, Arsenal FC – had taken ill from the disease in the spring, and I thought he should buck up because I was confident she’d survive it. Well, he did but she didn’t, much to my shock. When I read on Thursday or Friday that Bernie Mac was hospitalized for pneumonia, I didn’t even take the time to read past the headline, assuming the media was going into its typical frenzy and he’d surely buck the disease. Maybe it’s because I caught pneumonia when I was a teenager, a pretty bad bout too if the docs are to be believed, but I bucked it without even the specter of hospitalization. I guess what it means is I was really lucky, which, since I don’t believe in ‘luck,’ translates to my being very blessed. For reasons unbeknownst to us – as always – God decided otherwise with Pat Lampard and Bernie Mac, and countless (and faceless) others.

We’d been big fans of the Mac, my brother and I, since way before we knew his name. When we saw him in scene-stealing bits in films like Friday, Booty Call and The Players’ Club (“white men…takin’ all our sistas!”) we’d always gush over him and wonder what his name was (this was pre- our introduction to IMDb). It probably wasn’t until The Bernie Mac Show when his name was forced upon us, and countless Americans as its viewership soared, propelled by an affable nature, a biting wit and penchant for awesome self-deprecation, coupled with great presence and charm.

I had become a big enough fan by the time Mr. 3000 came out that I risked seeing it, despite my dread against films like that. But it surprised me – knocked me out of the park, as it were – with the Mac stronger and better than I’d ever seen him. As I gushed in my review for my university newspaper (****; B+), Mr. 3000 was the platform Mac needed to show off his chops as a leading man, and would hopefully be the career watershed his talent demanded.

Unfortunately that never really seemed to happen. Sure he kept busy, most notably with bit parts in the Ocean’s trilogy – fronted by the A-List triumvirate of Clooney-Pitt-Damon, the whitest leading men in America (don’t get me wrong – I love Clooney and Damon). But one couldn’t help but wonder when he’d get a platform as wide and deserving as Mr. 3000 to strut his abundant stuff.

Alas, it never happened, did it? (As fate would have it, I stumbled upon Mr. 3000 on the library DVD shelves as I scoured for something to borrow, and grinned to myself as I thought how pleasantly surprised I had been when I first saw it. I didn’t know a surprise of a much different nature was waiting 10mins later when I stepped out for the subway).

Is it a matter of unfulfilled talent or dreams? I hope to God not. I, of course, was never privileged to meet the Mac, let alone know him, but I hope, that as God saw fit to recall him at this time, that there was that all-too elusive measure of happiness and fulfillment in his life before his final curtain call. It’s the most we – celebrity or not, rich or poor, all as people, human beings – can really ask for. And so I offer that prayer not just for Mac, but for all that have fallen and continue to fall, religiously, in the throes of life.

God bless and God rest, Bernie Mac.

ADDENDUM: I’ve also learned of the passing of legend Isaac Hayes, an immortal presence from Shaft to South Park. That would merit another post, but I’m honestly too damn depressed.


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One Response to “A Tribute To Bernie Mac (and a Tip of the Hat to Isaac Hayes)”

  1. Billy Says:

    Two random deaths in row, it just wasn’t a very good weekend. First Morgan Freeman gave us a scare, then Bernie Mac dies when people expected he was doing better. Now Isaac Hayes and the cause was unknown! I hope next weekend is better…

    Read my post on Isaac Hayes

    Read my post on Bernie Mac

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