With practical jokes like those that spanned more than 30 years, the actor-comedian always knew how to get a rise out of people, stage or no stage. And it was that gift — that ability to grab people at their core — for which he was best known.
In the nearly two years since his death, memories are all friends, family and fans have to cling to. On
"I asked him, please don't leave. Don't leave, I'm here. Don't go," she says, sitting on a leather sofa in her living room, near their daughter, Je'Niece.
"What am I going to do now? That was my whole life. As a girl. As a woman. And I'm thinking, how am I to exist now?" says Rhonda, 51, who married Mac, her childhood sweetheart, in 1977. She adds that she's still adjusting to life without him.
In the months after her father died, from August through February, Je'Niece, 32, said she would not look in the mirror.
"I couldn't look in the mirror because my face is his face."
When it came to making life decisions, Je'Niece said her first thought was always how Mac would feel. "To have that gone was just like — 'What do you mean? Nobody's going to tell me what to do anymore?'" she said.
Mac grew up in an era when everyone told him what to do. Residing above
In his autobiography, "Maybe You Never Cry Again," he remembers his mother laughing so hard that she cried while watching
"I don't know what he's talkin' about ... but I know whatever it is, it's got power," Mac writes of Cosby. "That's what I want to be, Mama. A comedian."
By the 1980s he had a succession of jobs, from replacing empty beer kegs at
He managed his day job, studied comedians and hit the local comedy circuit at night. Finally, he landed a gig hosting at
"You had to step your game up. You weren't going to be recognized as a comic in
Mac's big break came in 1990, when he won the Miller Lite Comedy Search hosted by
Mac expanded to Def Comedy Jam, his "Who Ya Wit Tour" complete with music and dancers, and a string of movies like "Friday" and "Get on the Bus."
"Bernie wasn't just a comedian. Bernie was a showman," said television producer
The Kings of Comedy Tour, followed by "The Bernie Mac Show on Fox, made him into a household name.
"His stories and the things that he shared with you resonated with you even if you hadn't shared that experience," said fellow King of Comedy Cedric the Entertainer.
Mac would perform comedy bits for extras between setups while filming one of his last movies, "Soul Men," the film's director,
The last conversation longtime friend
"That's something everybody will cherish having a memory of, but it feels like a theft that we're not going to have that memory anymore," Soderbergh said.
Family and friends say Mac's off-screen legacy is not just his film credits in movies like "Mr. 3000," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "Head of State" and "Life." It was taking care of his family.
Rhonda said carrying on Mac's quest to help those
suffering from sarcoidosis — the immune system disorder he battled for
more than two decades — through the
"I always thought that he would succeed in something that he wanted ... because he had that drive," she says. "I never believed that (it would be) to this magnitude, that people all over the world would love him and still remember him like they do now."
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