Hard Times for Soul Survivors.

Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes and Sam Jackson from the movie, Soul Men

Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes and Sam Jackson from the movie, "Soul Men"

Many Americans will note the death of comedian Bernie Mac and singer Isaac Hayes and say, “Hey, the guy who did the voice of Chef on South Park died the day after one of the Black guys from Ocean’s Eleven passed away.”

The thing is unless you’ve seen Bernie Mac in The Original Kings of Comedy film or heard Isaac Hayes on albums like Hot Buttered Soul, Black Moses and of course, the Shaft soundtrack, you don’t really know how  much more there was to these two immensely talented brothers.

Bernie Mac paid his dues in Chicago comedy clubs long before he graduated to a steady, if not spectacular, work as an actor in films such as Charlie Angels: Full Throttle,  Mr. 3000, Guess Who, Get On the Bus, and most famously as the character of Frank Catton holding his own with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven and two sequels.

It was strange to think that anyone as vibrant and full of life as Bernie Mac could be dead at the age of 50.   A day later, Isaac Hayes, the soul-singer stud who took his “Black Moses” persona and parlayed it into Grammy and Oscar-winning success with the irresistible theme from Shaft passed away and a bad weekend became a terrible one.

What really sent the deaths of Mac and Hayes into the realm of the bizarre was the fact that they were both appearing in the same movie, Soul Men, with Mac starring with Samuel L.  Jackson, as two feuding singers who put their difference aside to do a final concert at the Apollo Theater.  The movie is scheduled to be released in November.

The movie’s story is fictional, but obviously echoes the strained relationship between the soul duo Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater)   whose biggest hits include, “Hold On, I’m Coming,”  “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” and of course, “Soul Man.”   All of these classics were written by the Stax Records songwriting duo of Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter.

Personal disagreements and drug problems led to Moore declaring to Prater that they could work together professionally,  but they did not speak to each other off-stage for 12 years.   That next sound  you hear is art imitating life in Soul Men.

Unlike Hayes, Mac’s movie career seemed stuck in neutral.  He was always working steadily, but with the exception of anemic comedies Guess Who and Mr. 3000, Mac seemed relegated to supporting roles in the Ocean’s Eleven movies, Head of State, and other junk such as Charlie Angels: Full Throttle, Booty Call, and B.A.P.S.

Who can say if Soul Men would have been the breakthrough dramatic turn for Mac that would have elevated him out the rut of supporting player roles he had fallen into?  Obviously with the untimely deaths of  both Mac and Hayes, there will be a certain morbid interest that will heighten interest in the film as the loss of Heath Ledger had an incalculable effect on the success of The Dark Knight.

Bernie and Sam get on the good foot.

Bernie and Sam get on the good foot.

However, Soul Men is a comedy and will audiences really want to laugh at a dead actor?   Dimension Films may want to avoid unfortunate comparisons between Ledger and Mac by moving the movie out of November and perhaps into 2009.

Audiences are a bit more sophisticated in how they handle the death of a celebrity.  If Mac turns out to give a brilliant performance in the movie (he and Jackson do their own singing and dancing in the movie) it might be disrespectful not to show a previously unrevealed side of Bernie Mac to his fans.

This November may possibly bring to the nation’s is first African-American president.  Bernie Mac was a supporter of Barack Obama (though Obama rebuked Mac for some salty humor at a fundraising event).   It would do a disservice to both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes if we were denied a last chance to see them celebrating the music they both loved.

Some of us are still reeling in shock with the loss of two immensely talented men in the span of a weekend.  Hopefully, Dimension Films won’t delay or deny their fans a final chance to see them in their glory.