Chris Tucker is no stranger to people wondering what the hell has happened to him. Way, way back in the '90s, before celebrity death hoaxes could easily be started with just one tweet, a rumor circulated that Tucker was dead.
"I do remember that, man," says Tucker, who will perform Friday at Durham Performing Arts Center.
"That was crazy because that's when the Internet was just starting, I guess," says the comedian, who is now an alive-and-well 41 years of age. Speaking from his Atlanta home base, Tucker says he immediately found humor in the hoax, even putting jokes about it in his stand-up routine.
"I was kind of happy because people stopped asking me for money. They were still calling me—'Hey, man, can I borrow five dollars?' ... 'Didn't you hear I was dead? Stop calling me!'"
Fittingly, the Decatur, Ga., native, actor and comedian has kept a notoriously low-to-the-point-of-nonexistent profile throughout the career. His hilariously high-pitched delivery made him a hit on HBO's Def Comedy Jam, eventually landing him roles in such movies as Dead Presidents, The Fifth Element and Friday, which gave him his breakout role as Smokey, the weed-toking sidekick to Ice Cube's straight-man lead. In 1997, he headlined his own film, Money Talks, a buddy comedy that paired him up with a moderately scandalous Charlie Sheen. But it wasn't until the following year, when he starred alongside Jackie Chan in the blockbuster action-comedy Rush Hour, that Tucker hit A-list status.
And yet, despite the Rush Hour sequels in 2001 and 2007, Tucker has been mostly absent on the big screen.
"Well, you know, I was looking for good movies," he says, referring to all the offers he turned down over the years. So it was surprising to see him appear last November in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, where he played Bradley Cooper's buddy and fellow mental health facility resident.
"It was a fun part, a good part and a good director," Tucker says. "Eventually, it became a good cast."
As he finds his way back into the movies, Tucker has mostly been focused on the stand-up side of his career. After making the last Rush Hour sequel, Tucker says he got the itch to tell jokes again.
"I went back to the comedy clubs, because I wanted to go back to do stand-up and to sharpen my craft, get back connected to my audience, with my fans," he says. He began building up a set and started hitting the road, playing theaters and concert halls for the past few years.
It seemed especially essential for him to get back to work, considering his well-publicized troubles with the IRS. Tucker owed an estimated $12 million in back taxes, which he actually considers a blessing in disguise.
"That helped me get back to stand-up, because that connected me back with my audience," he says. "Because they can relate to that, because they got their own problems."
While Tucker says the matter with IRS has been taken care of ("I still could use some money, man, if you wanna help with the taxes," he jokes), he's still out there performing. In fact, later this summer he has a stand-up concert movie scheduled for release. While a title for the movie has yet to be determined, it should let people know that Tucker is alive, well and down for whatever.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Back from the dead."