James McNair and Tracy Morgan came up together at the Uptown Comedy Club in Harlem, working there and throughout the New York comedy circuit for little pay and the hope of making it big.
Morgan found that dream, first as a Saturday Night Live cast member and then in the sitcom 30 Rock. But throughout his rise, Morgan remained close to McNair, often calling on the 62-year-old for help with comedy writing and for parts in some SNL skits.
McNair was traveling with others in a limousine bus that crashed on the New Jersey turnpike after a truck driver reportedly fell asleep at the wheel and set off a chain reaction of car crashes. Morgan was also left in critical condition along with two other passengers.
After his death, James McNair was remembered both in the world of comedy and as someone who frequently gave back to his community. McNair worked a number of jobs, including caseworker at a homeless shelter. He also frequently held fundraisers and served food at a local Salvation Army shelter.
“I know how he loved comedy, how he loved community, how much he did for the community,” said Glenn Cook, a close friend of McNair. “He helped just about everybody.”
James McNair even watched over his church parking lot to make sure members got to their cars safely, Deacon Elizabeth Johnson recalled.
“He was a faithful man. He was one who was always willing to reach out to others and help others,” she said. “He was a wonderful person and he will truly be missed.”
McNair was also deeply involved with his family and was a caregiver to his sister with cancer.
“He was sympathetic and empathetic,” said Donna Besterio, head of the Caring for the Homeless of Peekskill where McNair was a volunteer. “He was a very lovely guy who had a lot of heart and soul and did a lot of good for people.”
James McNair left behind a son and daughter.