At yesterday’s Los Angeles press day for Henry Poole Is Here, as word spread about Bernie Mac, who passed away early Saturday from
complications with pneumonia — after suffering for quite a while from
sarcoidosis, an inflammatory lung disease that produces tiny lumps of
cells in the body’s organs — fellow actor and comedian George Lopez shared a few thoughts about the Emmy-nominated multi-hyphenate, who escaped a hardscrabble upbringing in some of Chicago’s tougher neighborhoods, rising to become one of those unlikely middle-aged, air-quote overnight success stories.
“I’ve known Bernie for about 10 years,” says Lopez, understandably having trouble making the proper leap in tense. “I think when The Original Kings of Comedy came out he was the least known of the guys — Steve Harvey had a show, Cedric had had some success, D.L. Hughley had had some success. I think Bernie was the least known but probably the funniest one, and technically the strongest one, of all the kings of comedy. And he paid his dues. He was at it for a long time, which is the way that a lot of comedians had to do it. Not so much now, because with the Internet you can kind of be success quick, but [he was] a guy who paid his dues first, and then had success with TV and movies and made the transformation. And then to be such a great husband and father is a testament to him and to the strength that he had. I knew that he was ill, I think, for about six years, and 50 years old is way too young. For us, those who have been doing [comedy] so long, we’re like soldiers, so it feels like we’ve lost a brother. He’ll be sorely missed, because he was so unique.”
While sarcoidosis isn’t being officially mentioned as a contributing factor in Mac’s death, it was clearly an ongoing health issue and concern for the actor (he even mentioned it some in interviews), and that just further underscored a special, personal health blessing for Lopez. “I had a congenital kidney disease when I was born, and I didn’t really find out until my late 30s,” he says. “And I had to get a transplant. My wife was a perfect match for me — in my house, the only person tested. So it’s been a little bit more than three years, I feel fantastic, and I don’t know what my options would’ve been if that didn’t happen. I knew they probably weren’t going to be good. So that’s a miracle for me, that I can be fully healthy for the first time in my life, and that the actual donor was the person who snores right next to me every night.”