Iconic Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney dies at 93

Iconic Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney dies at 93 (Image 1)
Iconic Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney dies at 93 (Image 1)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Mickey Rooney's approach to life was simple:
“Let's put on a show!” He spent nine decades doing it, on the big
screen, on television, on stage and in his extravagant personal life.

A superstar in his youth, Rooney was Hollywood's
top box-office draw in the late 1930s to early 1940s. He epitomized the
“show” part of show business, even if the business end sometimes failed
him amid money troubles and a seesaw of career tailspins and revivals.

Pint-sized, precocious, impish, irrepressible –
perhaps hardy is the most-suitable adjective for Rooney, a perennial
comeback artist whose early blockbuster success as the vexing but
wholesome Andy Hardy and as Judy Garland's musical comrade in arms was
bookended 70 years later with roles in “Night at the Museum” and “The

Rooney died Sunday at age 93 surrounded by family
at his North Hollywood home, police said. The Los Angeles County
Coroner's office said Rooney died a natural death.

There were no further details immediately available
on the cause of death, but Rooney did attend Vanity Fair's Oscar party
last month, where he posed for photos with other veteran stars and
seemed fine. He was also shooting a movie at the time of his death, “The
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” with Margaret O'Brien.

He was nominated for four Academy Awards over a
four-decade span and received two special Oscars for film achievements,
won an Emmy for his TV movie “Bill” and had a Tony nomination for his
Broadway smash “Sugar Babies.”

“I loved working with Mickey on 'Sugar Babies.' He
was very professional, his stories were priceless and I love them all
… each and every one. We laughed all the time,” Carol Channing said.

A small man physically, Rooney was prodigious in
talent, scope, ambition and appetite. He sang and danced, played roles
both serious and silly, wrote memoirs, a novel, movie scripts and plays
and married eight times, siring 11 children.

His first marriage – to the glamorous, and taller,
Ava Gardner – lasted only a year. But a fond recollection from Rooney
years later – “I'm 5 feet 3, but I was 6 feet 4 when I married Ava” –
summed up the man's passion and capacity for life.

Rooney began as a toddler in his parents'
vaudeville act in the 1920s. He was barely six when he first appeared on
screen, playing a midget in the 1926 silent comedy short “Not to Be
Trusted,” and he was still at it more than 80 years later, working
incessantly as he racked up about 250 screen credits in a career
unrivaled for length and variety.

“I always say, 'Don't retire – inspire,'” Rooney
said in an interview with The Associated Press in March 2008. “There's a
lot to be done.”

This from a man who did more than just about anyone in Hollywood and outlasted pretty much everyone from old Hollywood.

Rooney was among the last survivors of the studio
era, which his career predated, most notably with the lead in a series
of “Mickey McGuire” kid comedy shorts from the late 1920s to early '30s
that were meant to rival Hal Roach's “Our Gang” flicks.

After signing with MGM in 1934, Rooney landed his
first big role playing Clark Gable's character as a boy in “Manhattan
Melodrama.” A year later, still only in his mid-teens, Rooney was doing
Shakespeare, playing an exuberant Puck in Max Reinhardt's “A Midsummer
Night's Dream,” which also featured James Cagney and Olivia de

Rooney soon was earning $300 a week with featured
roles in such films as “Riff Raff,” ''Little Lord Fauntleroy,”
''Captains Courageous” and “The Devil Is a Sissy.”

Then came Andy Hardy in the 1937 comedy “A Family
Affair,” a role he would reprise in 15 more feature films over the next
two decades. Centered on a kindly small-town judge (Lionel Barrymore)
who delivers character-building homilies to troublesome son Andy, it was
pure corn, but it turned out to be golden corn for MGM, becoming a
runaway success with audiences.

“I knew 'A Family Affair' was a B picture, but that didn't stop me from putting my all in it,” Rooney recalled.

Studio boss Louis B. Mayer saw “A Family Affair” as
a template for a series of movies about a model American home. Cast
changes followed, most notably with Lewis Stone replacing Barrymore in
the sequels, but Rooney stayed on, his role built up until he became the
focus of the films, which included “The Courtship of Andy Hardy,”
''Andy Hardy's Double Life” and “Love Finds Andy Hardy,” the latter
featuring fellow child star Garland.

He played a delinquent humbled by Spencer Tracy as
Father Flanagan in 1938's “Boys Town” and Mark Twain's timeless scamp in
1939's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Rooney's peppy, all-American charm was never better
matched than when he appeared opposite Garland in such films as “Babes
on Broadway” and “Strike up the Band,” musicals built around that “Let's
put on a show” theme.

One of them, 1939's “Babes in Arms,” earned Rooney a
best-actor Oscar nomination, a year after he received a special Oscar
shared with Deanna Durbin for “bringing to the screen the spirit and
personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high
standard of ability and achievement.”

He earned another best-actor nomination for 1943's
“The Human Comedy,” adapted from William Saroyan's sentimental tale
about small-town life during World War II. The performance was among
Rooney's finest.

“Mickey Rooney, to me, is the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with,” ''Human Comedy” director Clarence Brown once said.

Brown also directed Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in
1944's horse-racing hit “National Velvet,” but by then, Rooney was
becoming 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.

They divorced a year later. Rooney joined the Army, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.

When he returned to Hollywood, disillusionment
awaited him. 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

“I began to realize how few friends everyone has,”
he wrote in one of autobiographies. “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 he 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 no one ever could count Rooney out. He earned a
fourth Oscar nomination, as supporting actor, for 1979's “Black
Stallion,” the same year he starred with Ann Miller in the Broadway
revue “Sugar Babies,” which brought him a Tony nomination and millions
of dollars during his years with the show.

“I've been coming back like a rubber ball for years,” Rooney wisecracked at the time.

In 1981 came his Emmy-winning performance as a
disturbed man in “Bill.” He found success with voice roles for animated
films such as “The Fox and the Hound,” ''The Care Bears Movie” and
“Little Nemo.”

“He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that
ever lived. There was nothing he couldn't do. Singing, dancing,
performing … all with great expertise,” Margaret O'Brien said. “I was
currently doing a film with him, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr
Hyde.” I simply can't believe it. He seemed fine through the filming
and was as great as ever.”

Over the years, Rooney also made hundreds of
appearances on TV talk and game shows, dramas and variety programs. He
starred in three short-lived series: “The Mickey Rooney Show” (1954);
“Mickey” (1964); and “One of the Boys” (1982). 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 WO-O-ORLD!”

A lifelong storyteller, Rooney wrote two memoirs:
“i.e., an Autobiography” published in 1965, and “Life Is Too Short,”
1991. He also produced a novel about a child movie star, “The Search for
Sonny Skies,” in 1994.

In the autobiographies, Rooney gave two versions of
his debut in show business. First he told of being 1½ and climbing into
the orchestra pit of the burlesque theater where his parents were
appearing. He sat on a kettle drum and pretended to be playing his
whistle, vastly amusing the audience.

The second autobiography told a different story: He
was hiding under the scenery when he sneezed. Dragged out by an actor,
the toddler was ordered to play his harmonica. He did, and the crowd
loved it.

Whatever the introduction, Joe Yule Jr., born in
1920, was the star of his parents' act by the age of 2, singing “Sweet
Rosie O'Grady” in a tiny tuxedo. His father was a baggy-pants comic, Joe
Yule, his mother a dancer, Nell Carter. Yule was a boozing Scotsman
with a wandering eye, and the couple soon parted.

While his mother danced in the chorus, young Joe
was wowing audiences with his heartfelt rendition of “Pal o' My Cradle
Days.” During a tour to California, the boy made his film debut in
1926's “Not to Be Trusted.”

The Mickey McGuire short comedies that followed
gave him a new stage name, later appended, at his mother's suggestion,
to the last name Rooney, after vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney.

After splitting with Gardner, Rooney married Betty
Jane Rase, Miss Birmingham of 1944, whom he had met during military
training in Alabama. They had two sons and divorced after four years.
(Their son Timothy died in September 2006 at age 59 after a battle with a
muscle disease called dermatomyositis.)

His third and fourth marriages were to actress Martha Vickers (one son) and model Elaine Mahnken.

The fifth Mrs. Rooney, model Barbara Thomason, gave
birth to four children. While the couple were estranged in 1966, she
was found shot to death in her Brentwood home; beside her was the body
of her alleged lover, a Yugoslavian actor. It was an apparent murder and

A year later, Rooney began a three-month marriage
to Margaret Lane. She was followed by a secretary, Caroline Hockett –
another divorce after five years and one daughter.

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.

After a lifetime of carrying on, he became a
devoted Christian and member of the Church of Religious Science. He
settled in suburban Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles.
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.”

That year Rooney took his stepson Christopher Aber
and others to court on allegations that they tricked him into thinking
he was on the brink of poverty while defrauding him out of millions and
bullying him into continuing to work. At the time, Aber declined comment
on the suit except to say, “this lawsuit is not from Mickey Rooney –
it's from his conservators who are stealing from him.” The New York
Times reported that the suit was settled last year.

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