Bernie Mac’s widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Chicago against the late comedian’s longtime doctor.
Rhonda McCullough, Mac’s wife of over 30 years, alleges that a few weeks before his 2008 death, Mac’s dermatologist, Rene M. Earles, didn’t recognize indications of respiratory failure and kept the 50-year-old Chicago native at the clinic for several hours rather than call an ambulance.
Rhonda alleges in court papers that Earles kept her ailing husband at his clinic for nine hours on July 17, 2008, rather than calling an ambulance to take him to the hospital — setting in motion a catastrophic series of health setbacks that led to his untimely death weeks later from pneumonia.
The suit, filed last week in Cook County Circuit Court, claims Earles “failed to recognize cardiopulmonary instability in Bernie” and “failed to recognize and act upon abnormal vital signs and signs of respiratory failure” during that July visit to his clinic.
Dr. Earles tells the Chicago Sun-Times he did treat Mac on that fateful that day and says Mac appeared weak, had a low-grade fever and a rash.
He says after Mac told him that another doctor had given him an injection for a cold, he called that doctor and was told Mac had been diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs.
Earles didn’t know what the injection was for, but he didn’t believe Mac was in good enough shape to undergo therapy to treat lesions on his head, face and neck caused by his inflammatory lung disease, sarcoidosis.For the last 20 years, Earles said he had treated the lesions — involving injecting medications into the skin — regularly, sometimes weekly.
After that, Earles recalled giving Mac a physical exam that determined the actor had a “low-grade fever, was wheezing, was breaking out in a rash, and his heart started beating faster.”
“It seemed to me he was having a drug reaction to whatever the doctor gave him at Northwestern that day.”
Earles stabilized Mac, giving him medications to stop the drug reactions. During that time, Earles said he called Mac’s doctor either at or affiliated with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who revealed Mac had been diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia — that is, pneumonia in both lungs, Earles said.
The doctor, Earles recalled, believed Mac was to be admitted to the hospital. Earles got off the phone and went straight to his patient.
“I said ‘Bernie, get up, you’ve got to go to the hospital,’ ” Earles said.
Mac was able to walk out of the clinic, just after 10 p.m., and climbed into a chauffeur-driven vehicle that whisked him to the hospital, Earles said.
Mac, whose given name was Bernard McCullough, died from complications related to pneumonia on Aug. 9, 2008, at age 50.
The 69-year-old Earles said Mac’s death has been tough on him.
“It was entirely devastating. Look, Bernie was my patient. Bernie was my friend. We became extremely close — we were like brothers.”
He said he doesn’t know how to respond to the negligence accusations in the suit because he believed he took good care of Mac.
“He didn’t die the next day, he didn’t die in two days. He died in two weeks and he got over his original strain of pneumonia. He got another strain of pneumonia while he was in the hospital.”
Mac’s wife is seeking at least $50,000.