Bernie Mac blended style, authority and a touch of self-aware bluster to make audiences laugh and to connect with him. For Mr. Mac, who died Saturday at age 50, it was a winning mix, delivering him from a poor childhood to stardom as a stand-up comedian, in films including the casino heist caper Ocean's Eleven and his acclaimed sitcom The Bernie Mac Show.
Though his comedy drew on tough experiences as a black man, he had mainstream appeal -- befitting inspiration he found in a wide range of humorists: Harpo Marx and Moms Mabley; squeaky-clean Red Skelton, but also the raw Redd Foxx.
Mr. Mac died Saturday morning from complications from pneumonia in a Chicago area hospital, publicist Danica Smith said. She said no other details were available.
"The world just got a little less funny," said Ocean's co-star George Clooney.
Don Cheadle, another member of the Ocean's gang, concurred: "This is a very sad day for many of us who knew and loved Bernie. He brought so much joy to so many. He will be missed, but heaven just got funnier."
Mr. Mac suffered from sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of cells in the body's organs, but had said the condition went into remission in 2005. He recently was hospitalized and treated for pneumonia, which his publicist said wasn't related to the disease.
Recently, Mr. Mac's comedy caught him flack when he was heckled during a surprise appearance at a July fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama.
Toward the end of a 10-minute stand-up routine, Mr. Mac joked about menopause, sexual infidelity and promiscuity and used crude language. When Mr. Obama took the stage, he implored Mr. Mac to "clean up your act next time," then let him off the hook: "By the way, I'm just messing with you, man."
Even so, the campaign later issued a rebuke, saying the senator "doesn't condone these statements and believes what was said was inappropriate."
But despite controversy or difficulties, in his words, Mr. Mac was always a performer.
"Wherever I am, I have to play," he said in 2002. "I have to put on a good show."
Mr. Mac worked his way to Hollywood success from an impoverished upbringing on Chicago's South Side. He began doing stand-up as a child, telling jokes for spare change on subways, and his film career started with a small role as a club doorman in the Damon Wayans comedy Mo' Money in 1992. In 1996, he was in the Spike Lee drama Get on the Bus .
He was one of The Original Kings of Comedy in the 2000 documentary that brought a new generation of black stand-up comedy stars to a wider audience.
"The majority of his core fan base will remember that when they paid their money to see Bernie Mac ... he gave them their money's worth," Steve Harvey, an Original Kings co-star, told CNN on Saturday.
But his career and comic identity were forged in television.
In the late 1990s, he had a recurring role in Moesha, the UPN comedy starring pop star Brandy. Critical and popular acclaim came after he landed his own Fox television series The Bernie Mac Show, about a child-averse couple who suddenly are saddled with three children.
He mined laughs from the universal frustrations of parenting, often address the camera throughout the series, which aired from 2001-06. "C'mon, America," he implored in character. "When I say I wanna kill those kids, you know what I mean."
The series won a Peabody Award in 2002, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
In his 2004 memoir, Maybe You Never Cry Again , Mr. Mac wrote about his poor childhood and strict, no-nonsense upbringing.
"I came from a place where there wasn't a lot of joy," he told the AP in 2001. "I decided to try to make other people laugh when there wasn't a lot of things to laugh about."