WASHINGTON, April 7, 2014 –He went from irascible youth to curmudgeonly old man in more than 200 films. Now Mickey Rooney (September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014) has died. The actor who started in show business as a child actor, appearing as the original Andy Hardy, has been ill.
His death at the age of 93 is attributed to natural causes.
Rooney’s career leaves behind an 80-year legacy, receiving two honorary Oscars – in 1938 and 1982. Sir Laurence Olivier once called Rooney the greatest actor of all time. His appearance as Puck in the 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was perfect for the 5’ 3” actor who won over audiences with his smile and infectious joy that made him a favorite of audiences seeking to forget the depression.
Rooney began on the vaudeville stage. The son of a comedian father and dancer mother, performing was “in my blood. It’s who I am” the star told Backstage magazine.
Rooney moved to film at the age of 6 as the character Mickey McGuire (1927-1933) in shorts based on the Toonerville Trolley cartoons, becoming Mickey Rooney before landing the role of Andy Hardy, the boy-about-town that won girls with his impish grin and devil’s charm.
As Andy Hardy Rooney became one of the most famous child actors, reprising his role in 15 Hardy Boys films, becoming the No. 1 box-office draw in the country.
From there he appeared on screen with giants, like Judy Garland in Babes In Arms and was the first teen to be nominated for an Oscar for Strike up the Band (1940)
His biggest role of the 40s was with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, the movie that launched one of the biggest careers in Hollywood. Taylor was not the only 40’s leading lady he worked with – Rooney also appeared with Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Rooney was married eight times – his first marriage to Ava Gardner, one of the sexiest and most sultry actresses in Hollywood ended in 1943. Rooney also married Elain Mahnken, a model, Barbara Ann Thomason, Carolyn Hockett and in 1978, country singer/songwriter Jan Chamberlain.
Rooney is a World War II veteran, joining the entertainment troops known as the Jeep Theater, traveling more than 150,000 miles to appear before more than two million troops. Sadly, upon returning stateside in 1945, the actor found himself having trouble moving from teen star to leading man.
Moving from leading teen star to character actor, he appeared in supporting roles in 1954’s The Bridges an Toki-Ri and 1956’s The Bold and the Brave. He appeared in 1979’s Black Stallion and then taking Broadway by storm, earning a Tony nomination for his role in Sugar Babies.
“I was a very famous has-been until this show,” Rooney told the Associated Press in 1979. “Now, it’s almost like the resurrection of a career, of someone saying, ‘He didn’t cop out on us, he’s still there.'”
His most recent works included starring as Gus with Ben Still in Night at the Museum (2006) and Amy Adams, who went on to star in sequel to Night at the Museum, in the 2011 Jim Henson Production film The Muppets.
His appearance, as a curmudgeonly old man in Night at the Museum was hilarious and showed his ability to absorb a character while keeping his personality intact.
Rooney ‘golden years’ were not, as we would hope, always happy ones. He won a $2.8 million judgment against his stepson for elder abuse, charging him with stealing money from his accounts. Rooney’s quest to bring elder abuse to the forefront of national discussion led to his courageous address to the U.S. Senate, sharing his personal, and tragic, story.