Mickey Rooney, Legendary Actor, Dies at 93

Mickey Rooney, the pint-sized actor who was one of MGM’s giant box office attractions in the late ’30s and early ’40s, died on Sunday at his home in North Hollywood. He was 93.

As adept at comedy as drama and an excellent singer and dancer, Rooney was regarded as the consummate entertainer. During a prolific career on stage and screen that spanned eight decades (“I’ve been working all my life, but it seems longer,” he once said), he was nominated for four Academy Awards and received two special Oscars, the Juvenile Award in 1939 (shared with Deanna Durbin) and one in 1983 for his body of work.

He also appeared on series and TV and in made for television movies, one of which, “Bill,” the touching story of a mentally challenged man, won him an Emmy. He was Emmy nominated three other times. And for “Sugar Babies,” a musical revue in which he starred with Ann Miller, he was nominated for a Tony in 1980.

“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,” said Carol Channing in a statement.

PHOTOS: Remembering Mickey Rooney

Both in his professional and personal life Rooney withstood many peaks and valleys. He was married eight times — first and most famously to his MGM co-star Ava Gardner — and filed for bankruptcy in 1962, having gone through the $12 million he had earned. And until middle age, he was never able to quite cast off his popularity as a juvenile. Nonetheless, Rooney’s highs more than compensated for his lows. Via his “Andy Hardy” series of films, the five-foot-three Rooney came to embody the virtues of small-town American boyhood. Those films and a series of musicals in which he co-starred with Judy Garland made him the nation’s biggest box office attraction for three years running.

Margaret O’Brien said she was recently working on a film with him, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” despite reports that he had been in ill health for some time.  “Mickey was the only one at the studio that was ever allowed to call me Maggie.  He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived.  There was nothing he couldn’t do.  Singing, dancing, performing … all with great expertise.  Mickey made it look so easy.  He seemed fine through the filming and was as great as ever,” said O’Brien in a statement. He was also set to appear in “Fragments From Olympus – The Vision of Nikola Tesla” and possibly in “Old Soldiers.”

SEE ALSO: Mickey Rooney’s Son Michael, Hollywood Admirers React to His Death

Born Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, Rooney made his stage debut at age 15 months in his family’s vaudeville act, Yule and Carter, as a midget in a tuxedo. His first film role in the silent “Not to Be Trusted” also found him playing a midget. Even as a child he demonstrated the ability to be a consummate clown and to move audiences with his sentimental renditions of songs like “Pal of My Cradle Days.” After his parent’s divorce, his mother Nell answered an ad placed by cartoonist Fontaine Fox, who was looking for a child actor to play the comicstrip character Mickey McGuire in a series of silent comedy shorts. Rooney appeared in almost 80 episodes of the popular serial, which continued to be churned out by Standard Film Corp. until 1932. His mother wanted to legally change his name to McGuire, but when Fox objected, she chose Rooney instead.

As a teenager, Rooney appeared in many popular films including Tom Mix Western “My Pal the King” and, memorably, as Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In 1934, MGM signed him to a week-to-week contract; his first success was playing Clark Gable as a boy in “Manhattan Melodrama.” He slowly climbed up the star ladder, appearing in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah Wilderness” and in “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous” and “Boy’s Town,” the latter two alongside Spencer Tracy.

But it was “A Family Affair,” a B-movie adaptation of the minor Broadway play “Skidding,” that first brought the world the Hardy family and its irrepressible son Andy, “the perfect composite of everybody’s kid brother,” according to critic Frank S. Nugent. With the surprise success of “A Family Affair,” the Hardy family, which included Lewis Stone (replacing Lionel Barrymore) as Judge Hardy and Spring Byington as his wife, embarked on a 15-film series of adventures in Americana. As star of one of the most successful series in film history, Rooney was earning $150,000 a year before his 20th birthday. In 1939, he was voted a special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

The following year he was nominated for best actor in the film musical version of “Babes in Arms” with Judy Garland. “Mickey Rooney can act the legs off a centipede,” wrote the critic for the Sunday Times in London. It was the first of several memorable pairings with Garland including “Strike Up the Band,” “Babes on Broadway” and “Girl Crazy.”

His performance in the 1943 version of William Saroyan’s “The Human Comedy” brought a second nomination, and he played his first adult role opposite Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet.”

From 1944-46, Rooney served in the U.S. Army in the Jeep Theater, traveling 150,000 miles entertaining the troops and acting as a radio personality on the American Forces Network.

But after the war, Rooney’s attempt to make the transition from over-aged teenager to full-fledged adult was rocky at best. MGM tried to give him a new image, casting him as a boxer in “Killer McCoy”; the musical version of “Ah Wilderness,” called “Summer Holiday,” also failed to please. The very qualities that had made him an appealing child star now began to grate. His energetic cockiness seemed forced and egotistical in an adult. The vaudeville-style humor and sentimentality were deemed annoying and precious by post-war audiences.

After settling his contract with MGM in a dispute over not being cast in the all-star war drama “Battleground,” Rooney made nightclub appearances as he rebuilt his career. His freelance movie assignments, such as “Quicksand,” sank without a trace. Only “The Bold and the Brave,” a WWII drama that brought him a third Oscar nomination, met with any success. The final Andy Hardy drama, 1958’s “Andy Hardy Comes Home,” found him as a successful lawyer and new head of the family. It was the final and least successful film in the series.

Rooney also tried directing, helming 1951’s “My True Story,” with Helen Walker as a jewel thief, and 1960’s “The Private Lives of Adam and Eve,” a complex comedy in which he also starred.

He experienced somewhat more success in television: He was nominated for Emmys for dramatic work on “Playhouse 90” effort “The Comedian,” considered a classic of golden-era television, and “Eddie” on “Alcoa Theatre.” He also appeared, less felicitously, in the mid-’50s series “The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan” on NBC and “Mickey,” which ran for a few months on ABC in 1964-65.

But in 1962, after filing for bankruptcy (the money had dwindled through his many divorces and because of his fondness for betting on “the ponies”), he embarked on a career as a character actor in films including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” His controversial “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” role as Mr. Yunioshi, a buck-toothed broadly comic caricature of a Japanese man, did not draw much ire when the film was first released but has since been condemned as racist.

Off the bigscreen, he toured the country on a double bill with singer Bobby Van and in summer stock.

In 1963, he appeared as the very first guest on “The Judy Garland Show” upon Garland’s insistence. And he appeared occasionally during the ’60s on comedy/variety shows such as “The Dean Martin Comedy Hour,” “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” He guested on “Hollywood Squares” in 13 episodes between 1969 and 1976, and made 15 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1970-73.

Norman Lear considered him for role of Archie Bunker, but Rooney rejected the project just as Jackie Gleason had. Perhaps he felt the role of Santa Claus fit him better: Rooney did the voices for four Christmas TV animated/stop action specials over the years. He played Santa in “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (1970), “The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974), “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (1979) and “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” (2008) and also played St. Nick in a 1982 episode of “The Love Boat.”

In later years, Rooney continued to work hard and sometimes found notable success. He received an Oscar nomination for supporting actor in 1980 for “The Black Stallion.” He won an Emmy for “Bill” in 1982 and drew an Emmy nom for reprising the role in another CBS telepic two years later.

In addition to his success in the musical “Sugar Babies,” he made popular stage appearances in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and on Broadway in “The Will Rogers Follies.”

In 1982 he starred in a short-lived sitcom, “One of the Boys,” with Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane. He guested on “The Golden Girls” in 1988, on “Murder, She Wrote” in 1993 and on “ER” in 1998; he starred in “The New Adventures of the Black Stallion,” based on the film, for 57 episodes from 1990-93.

As he approached and then surpassed his 90th birthday, he labored on, appearing in 2006 in “Night at the Museum” and in 2011 in “The Muppets” feature, among several other films.

In 1993 he published autobiography “Life Is Too Short”; the next year he came out with a novel, Hollywood murder mystery “The Search for Sonny Skies.”

Rooney had battled the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild seeking TV residuals for his screen appearances before 1960 without success. In 2011 he revealed he had suffered another form of victimization. He was granted a temporary restraining order against his stepson, who was accused of withholding food and medicine and interfering in Rooney’s personal finances, which was subsequently replaced by a confidential agreement.

In March 2011 he testified before a special Senate committee considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens.

Rooney voyaged, as a special guest, as part of the TCM Classic Cruise in January 2013.

 

He is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin, a singer he married in 1978; son Mickey Rooney Jr. from his marriage to singer Betty Jane Rase; son Theodore Michael Rooney from his marriage to actress Martha Vickers; daughters Kelly Ann Rooney, Kerry Rooney and Kimmy Sue Rooney and son Michael Joseph Rooney from his marriage to Barbara Ann Thomason; and daughter Jonelle Rooney and adopted son Jimmy Rooney from his marriage to Carolyn Hockett. A son, Tim Rooney, died in 2006.

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  1. faith4heaven says:

    Actually, his home is probably in Heaven. Sounded like he had put his faith in Christ Jesus, last time I heard him talk about his faith. (Please see Colossians 1:27 in the Bible).

  2. Mickey Rooney will be even more loved as the years go by.
    His career was amazing.
    He now lives where he belongs.
    Among the stars.

    George Vreeland Hill

  3. Adam Mudhenk says:

    Mickey, like Judy, was never really accorded the respect his vast talent deserved as he got older; In part because of the extreme popularity of his youth. Strange, isn’t it?

  4. My dear father was an absolute carbon copy of Mr. Mickey Rooney. Throughout his entire life people would stop him on the street to get an autograph. Although he himself was only 5’2″. He was comical and so lovable just as portrayed by Mr. Rooney. I feel such sorrow at his loss, as I was able to still see the image of my own father through Mickey Rooney. I hope his family love him as much as our family loved my father. God bless you Mr. Rooney. You have made me laugh all my life and you will continue to make the world laugh through your wonderful movies. Thank you.

  5. これは、あなたが本当に設定期限の美しさを体験する唯一の方法です。オンラインマーケティングの使用期限の最大の名前は、最後の1年か2年にわたって見たかもしれない、これらの巨大な製品の発売イベントの一部に間に合うように、自社製品を準備するために。

  6. Richard Hoyt says:

    I received basic training in january 1943 at miami beach while Mickey and Clark Gable were also similarly occupied. Gable saw his duty to be serious and dignified, always quiet and friendly. He was uiiversally admired and respected, Mickey saw his role differently, to amuse and cheer up everyone. He requested an ill fitting uniform to get laughs and was always “on”. Sadly he was not appreciated properly for his efforts, but he tried hard as he did all his life. We took ourselves so seriously, and Mickey saw himself as one who could loosen us up and make it all easier.It is a sign of the times that we looked to Gable as an ideal soldier, but thank you for trying, Mickey,

  7. bob clark says:

    RIP seen most of your movies growing up

  8. Lesliefox says:

    R.I.P. Mickey we all will miss you very much…

  9. Doug Criner says:

    My uncle was the head dining car steward on the crack Santa Fe Super Chief that ran between L.A. and Chicago. He served many movie stars, and said that Mickey Rooney was most difficult and nasty.

  10. Kate says:

    He was a wonderful actor and entertainer. Thank you for all the joy you gave us during your life, Mickey. You will be missed.

  11. A. Friend says:

    What a difficult, unique and talented man. R.I.P., spritely goodfellow.

  12. potvin99 says:

    Dana Carvey as Mickey Rooney ‘I was the No. 1 star in the world, hear me? The world!’

    That SNL skit made me laugh so hard I cried.

  13. Steven says:

    93, that’s a great run for anybody and a long one from your generation. Thanks for the laughter.

  14. Quasi Quirky says:

    You were a hoot!! Loved your work!!

  15. jimbo says:

    A great. Period.

  16. Darlene says:

    What a truly remarkable talent!!! A major credit to his craft! He should have received a Lifetime Achievement award as well!
    Thank you with all my heart Mickey for sharing your gifts, its been such a pleasure, and you will be sorely missed! RIP now as I’m sure you will Strike Up the Band of angels on your journey to Heaven! Xoxo

  17. tamara hope says:

    Mickey Rooney was such a great funny guy! I had the pleasure of meeting him in the early 80’s when I went to Cal. the for the 1st time, I was dating one of his sons best friends & we went to his house to meet him & it was truly a honor to meet him, he was so down to earth! I had always loved his movies so this was a treat, I’m sad that he is gone now, but will always remember the day I met him fondly. RIP Mickey, thanks for the many movies we have of you to watch, but we will still miss you!

  18. Keith Diggs says:

    A real “Actor’s actor”, may Jesus bless you Mickey!!!

  19. Richard LoConto says:

    I am sure going to miss this great one-of-a-kind entertainer. Nobody can replace him.

  20. Daniel says:

    I have not forgotten ‘Bill’ since I saw it. One of the first films that I learned from with an adult context, as a pre-adolescent.

    Thank you Mickey Rooney for your work and always kind demeanor.

  21. Rationalist says:

    RIP, Mickey.
    The so-called “comedians and stars” nowadays can only wish they were like you and the other greats of yesteryear…

  22. YouGotToBeKiddingMe says:

    I was hoping he would go on forever. He was hilarious in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. When he did comedy he was wonderful, he will be missed.

  23. Lee Knutsen says:

    A classy guy. Saw some of the old Andy Hardy movies on TV. Not all that dated (notably Rooney’s performance). Loved seeing him with Judy Garland singing & dancing. Love his supporting role in the 1936 David O Selznick adaptation of Little Lord Fauntleroy (this A list film badly needs technical cleanup).

    If you were a kid and saw him a few years back in Night at the Museum (2006), note that probably your GREAT grandparents first saw him in silent films. WOW!

  24. pamela china says:

    a true Hollywood Legend, RIP Mickey Rooney

  25. Chris Longski says:

    I have about a dozen of the Andy Hardy films on DVD. No killing, no prurient sex, no potty mouth language — a wonderful way to spend an afternoon !

  26. Are you kidding me? A man dies and all you can do is celebrate the fact that he wasn’t gay? What the fuck is wrong with you?

  27. Paul Roberts says:

    Mickey Rooney, Another one of Americas great actors gone. From a time in which the country had pride and was revered around the world as the greatest nation on earth. When movies were about family values, real entertainment that took talent, and real life struggles and showed through persistence, hard work, and honesty, one could conquer life challenges. When Men were Men, and Women were Women, and both were glad of it.

  28. alexandron says:

    A truly great entertainer in all his endeavors and may have been the last link to Hollywood’s Golden Age of film icons.

    • Chris Longski says:

      Every time a legend from the so-called Golden Age passes, I feel a little more hollow. There are NO replacements extant for this type of talent. Gone. And there’s not one current “star” out there with a fraction of his talent. Kid star. Song and Dance man. Movie Good Guy. Movie Bad Guy. Want to see a Mickey tour de force? Check out The Black Stallion. You can gather the family for that one…

  29. Ken / Toronto says:

    I saw him in a touring production of SUGAR BABIES in Toronto back in the 80s. I was absolutely AMAZED by his energy level as he bounced around from end of the large O’Keefe Centre stage to the other. He was ferociously talented. He had more vim than I did — and I was in my 20s at the time!!! A remarkably versatile entertainer, I think he as at his best in the touching 1943 home front/WW2 drama THE HUMAN COMEDY. Many fond memories. Thank you Sir, for your talent and enthusiasm.

  30. Paulette says:

    R.I.P Mickey !!! You were one of the best actors around.

  31. sarah says:

    always love to mickey rooneyR.I.P. I will miss you.

  32. PED says:

    Mickey Rooney was a survivor. I suspect Mickey will even survive death. God bless you and thank you for leaving us all those great moments on film.

    • carl says:

      Those who doubt his acting ability should see THE COMMEDIAN, a PLAYHOUSE 90, Because of contractual issues the video is said to be unavailable, but I have poorly VCR tape. Off camera crew were on strike and others did the best they could. It was all live. No VCR in that ancient day.

  33. Cabiria says:

    Just a few years ago, there he was, unrecognized in the audience of the Academy Awards while a parade of insta-stars who I can’t keep track of were getting and handing out Oscars. Better recoginze!

  34. Wanda Chappell says:

    We have lost yet an other great ICON.. He will be missed and future stars will have far to go to reach his star.

  35. Harvey says:

    MaybGOD grant him eternal peace! I have enjoyed watching Mickeynperform all of my life. He was fantastica! I thank GOD for sending Mickey Rooney to entertain us!

  36. NufffSaid says:

    What an amazing talent. There was no one pair ever like him and Judy, and there never will be..

  37. vaag says:

    The mold was broken after he was born never to be replaced. He did it all like no one else ever can or ever will.

  38. occultology says:

    Mickey Rooney always made it look so easy! Thank you, great Hollywood Star, for the brilliance of your incandescent light, which will glow on throughout eternity. You were the Soul of the American Spirit.

  39. dee says:

    thanks, mickey, for all the memories. how wonderful to be reunited with your dear judy garland forever.

  40. Never heard of him.

  41. Thank you for sharing all of your amazing talent with us all after so many awesome years! God Bless you Mickey, Peace be with you and your family <3

  42. Steve Halvorsen says:

    Have so many good memories of Mikey Rooney movies over the years. I first saw the Andy Hardy films on Turner Classic Movies and always looked forward to watching.. He’ll be missed for sure!

  43. Debora Borges says:

    it’s a very sad day…he was a great actor, I first learned how to love old musicals watching the movies he starred with Judy Garland, and then I decided I wanted to be an actress, specially in musicals —- And he was born the same day I did BUT 71 years apart…RIP Mickey — Your star shined all the way down here to Brazil and inspired me.

  44. mike hayes says:

    The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Mike Forney (Rooney) and Nester Gamidge (Holliman) try to save downed-pilot Harry Brubaker (Holden) during The Korean War…..AWESOME

  45. Daniel says:

    Rest in peace and thank you for the years of entertainment that you provided. Mickey Rooney was before my time but I have seen a few of his movies and I think he was one of the greats for his era.

  46. My prayers are with your family, Mickey will be greatly miss, but “NEVER” forgotten; R.I.P. Mickey Rooney, Always Alice Krutsinger from Troutdale, OR.

  47. Mike Carrington says:

    I have some friends who met Mickey Rooney in the early 1980s when he rented an apartment in New York, where he was working for a few weeks. They said he was a bundle of energy and a genuinely nice guy.

    I must say I respect anyone who works as hard as he did for so long, and I envy anyone who loves their job so much they still show up for work at age 93. RIP, Mickey, and thanks!

  48. I had the distinct pleasure of lighting and shooting a back-stage interview with Mickey Rooney for American Movie Classics while he was in previews; portraying “The Wizard of OZ” in a regional theater production during the mid 1990’s. After the session, he very generously invited all of us to attend that evening’s preview performance.

    Needless to say, he received a standing ovation when he stepped onstage in the First Act, but the real show-stopper came later, as Dorothy and her entourage approached the gates of the Emerald City.

    On perfect cue after Dorothy tugged on the bell rope, Mickey swung open the peep-hole door and, much to everyone’s dismay, HE FORGOT HIS OPENING LINE!

    A torturous few seconds of clumsy silence ensued. Then, in one glorious unrehearsed bit of theatrical magic, he was prompted, in unison, by the entire audience:

    WHO RANG THAT BELL?

    To which he replied:

    Thanks folks! This job ain’t gettin’ any easier!

    It took two full minutes for the applause to die down so the show could resume.

    • Jeri says:

      I saw him as The Wizard of Oz when it played in Toronto. It was a magical performance, between Mickey as the Wizard and Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch of the West. I have loved his movies forever, and honestly thought he would break 100. RIP Mickey, so sad to see yet another classic Hollywood icon gone.

    • Bob Smith says:

      Awesome story! Thanks!

  49. lola says:

    RIP MR great work, he lived a full life, and had a beautiful family, I was reading about his daughters here, my prayers to all of them http://dailyentertainmentnews.com/movies/jonelle-kimmy-kelly-kerry-rooney-actor-mickey-rooneys-daughters/

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