LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Bernie Mac and soul giant Isaac Hayes died a day apart in August after finishing work on the movie "Soul Men".
But as the comedy opens on Friday, the two stars are back on screen in splendid form, in a movie drenched with music from another era.
During filming, both Mac and Hayes performed in less than stellar health. Mac starred in the film as an aging soul singer looking to return to fame, and Hayes appeared as himself.
Samuel L. Jackson, who starred in "Soul Men" with Mac, said the film was a perfect last role for the comedian he befriended years ago.
"It bothers me more that Bernie didn't get to see the movie than that he passed," said Jackson, 59. "Because he did this film, and he did a great job in it, and it's an amazing tribute to what he is and who he's been."
The movie revolves around the music of Stax Records, the soul music label founded in Memphis, Tennessee that was a musical home in the 1960s to Hayes and some of the leading black performers of the day.
The movie follows fictional singers Floyd Henderson (Mac) and Louis Hinds (Jackson) on a road trip to reclaim the singing glory they once enjoyed in a famous soul music trio.
The trio falls apart when lead singer Marcus Hooks (John Legend) goes solo. But when Hooks suddenly dies, Henderson and Hinds come to terms with their own fractured friendship as they dust off their act and perform in a tribute show for their former bandmate.
Mac, who starred in the television sitcom "The Bernie Mac Show" and the movie "Ocean's 11," died in Chicago at age 50 on August 9 after suffering from pneumonia.
Hayes died of a stroke on August 10. The 65-year-old soul music star, who won an Oscar for his theme song to the movie "Shaft," had suffered a stroke last year.
Actress Sharon Leal, 36, who stars as a budding singer in the film, said Hayes was still recovering from his 2007 stroke during the filming of "Soul Men."
And she said Mac, who had battled a chronic tissue inflammation of the lungs called sarcoidosis, had an oxygen tank with him on set.
But the former "Dreamgirls" star said Mac would fool around on set, imitating Jackson's most surly on-screen demeanor. He also took Leal under his wing.
"Being a guy who had a normal blue collar job -- several actually -- for a lot of his life and who fell into his success later, he had a real sense of where he came from," Leal said.
Leal said Hayes also made his presence felt.
"We were lucky to have the soul man himself on set, even for a couple of days, to kind of put his signature on a film that was really representative of what he did for so many years," she said.
"Soul Men", is directed by Malcolm Lee, the cousin of filmmaker Spike Lee. It opens on the same day as the animated movie "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" which features Mac's voice work.
Editing by Jill Serjeant