STUDIO CITY (CBSLA.com/AP) — Mickey Rooney, the pint-size, precocious actor and all-around talent whose more than 80-year career spanned silent comedies, Shakespeare, Judy Garland musicals, Andy Hardy stardom, television and the Broadway theater, has died. He was 93.
He passed away Sunday surrounded by family at his Studio City home, Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith said.
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Rooney died a natural death.
Rooney enjoyed a tenure likely unmatched in the history of show business, but is most remembered for having been one of the industry’s biggest child stars.
Born in 1920, the Brooklyn native — born Joe Yule Jr. — started his career in his parents’ vaudeville act while still a toddler, and broke into movies before age 10. He was still racking up film and TV credits more than 80 years later.
“I always say, ‘Don’t retire — inspire,'” he told The Associated Press in March 2008. “There’s a lot to be done.”
The comedic, toothy actor quickly became a child star after being cast as Mickey McGuire, a name he legally adopted, in a two-reel comedy series based on a comic strip.
In 1934, hoping to make a name for himself in feature films, the actor changed his name to Mickey Rooney.
Two years later, MGM signed him to their studios. In 1935, Rooney gave a stand-out performance as Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
One of the actor’s most memorable roles was that of Andy Hardy, the “wise-cracking son of a small-town judge,” in the movie “A Family Affair,” according to The New York Times. The film’s success spurred 15 more Andy Hardy films over the next two decades.
In the early ’40s, Rooney appeared in several high-profile film such as “The Human Comedy” and “National Velvet,” which launched the career of a young Elizabeth Taylor.
But Rooney became a cautionary tale for early fame. He earned a reputation for drunken escapades and quickie romances and was unlucky in both money and love. In 1942 he married for the first time, to Gardner, the statuesque MGM beauty. He was 21, she was 19.
“I’m 5 feet 3, but I was 6 feet 4 when I married Ava,” he said in later years. The marriage ended in a year, and Rooney joined the Army in 1943, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.
Rooney returned to Hollywood and disillusionment. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nose dive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.
“I began to realize how few friends everyone has,” he wrote in his second autobiography. “All those Hollywood friends I had in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941, when I was the toast of the world, weren’t friends at all.”
His movie career never regained its prewar eminence. “The Bold and the Brave,” 1956 World War II drama, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. But mostly, he played second leads in such films as “Off Limits” with Bob Hope, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” with William Holden, and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with Anthony Quinn. In the early 1960s, he had a wild turn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as Audrey Hepburn’s bucktoothed Japanese neighbor and was among the fortune seekers in the all-star comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”
Rooney’s starring roles came in low-budget films such as “Drive a Crooked Road,” ”The Atomic Kid,” ”Platinum High School,” ”The Twinkle in God’s Eye” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”
But his later career proved his resilience: The Oscar nomination for “Black Stallion.” The “Sugar Babies” hit that captivated New York, London, Las Vegas and major U.S. cities. Voicing animated features like “The Fox and the Hound,” ”The Care Bears Movie” and “Little Nemo.” An Emmy for his portrayal of a disturbed man in the 1981 TV movie “Bill.” Teaming with his eighth wife, Jan, off-Broadway in 2004 for a musical look back at his career called, fittingly, “Let’s Put On a Show.”
Over the years, Rooney also made hundreds of appearances on TV talk and game shows, dramas and variety programs. He starred in three series: “The Mickey Rooney Show” (1954), “Mickey” (1964) and “One of the Boys” (1982). All lasted one season and a co-star from “One of the Boys,” Dana Carvey, later parodied Rooney on “Saturday Night Live,” mocking him as a hopeless egomaniac who couldn’t stop boasting he once was “the number one star … IN THE WOOORLD!”
During the course of his career, Rooney was nominated twice for a Best Actor Oscar and twice more for Best Supporting Actor. He won a Golden Globe for the 1981 TV movie “Bill.” There are four stars dedicated to Rooney along the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1983, the Motion Picture Academy presented Rooney with an honorary Oscar for his “60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances.” That matched the 1938 special award he shared with Deanna Durbin for “bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.”
A lifelong storyteller, Rooney wrote two memoirs: “i.e., an Autobiography” published in 1965; “Life Is Too Short,” 1991. He also produced a novel about a child movie star, “The Search for Sonny Skies,” in 1994.
In 1978, Rooney, 57, married for the eighth — and apparently last — time. His bride was singer Janice Darlene Chamberlain, 39. Their marriage lasted longer than the first seven combined.
During his eight marriages, Rooney fathered seven sons and four daughters.
After a lifetime of carrying on, he became a devoted Christian and member of the Church of Religious Science.
In 2011, Rooney was in the news again when he testified before Congress about abuse of the elderly, alleging that he was left powerless by a family member who took and misused his money.
“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” Rooney told a special Senate committee considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens. “But above all, when a man feels helpless, it’s terrible.”
Rooney’s personal life matched his film roles for color. Through divorces, money problems and career droughts, he kept returning with customary vigor.
“I’ve been coming back like a rubber ball for years,” he commented in 1979, the year he returned with a character role in “The Black Stallion.”
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