Rooney made his last regular weekly appearance on “60 Minutes” on Oct. 2. A few weeks later, CBS announced he was in a hospital.
Rooney had gone to the hospital for an undisclosed surgery, but major complications developed and he never recovered.
“Andy always said he wanted to work until the day he died, and he managed to do it, save the last few weeks in the hospital,” said his “60 Minutes” colleague, correspondent Steve Kroft.
“It’s a sad day at ’60 Minutes’ and for everybody here at CBS News,” said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of ’60 Minutes.’ “It’s hard to imagine not having Andy around. He loved his life and he lived it on his own terms. We will miss him very much.”
Rooney talked on “60 Minutes” about what was in the news, and his opinions occasionally got him in trouble. But he was just as likely to discuss the old clothes in his closet, why air travel had become unpleasant and why banks needed to have important-sounding names.
Correspondent Steve Kroft reflected on the length of Rooney’s storied career. “What a life: ninety-two years of doing what you love to do while engaging and entertaining millions and millions of people,” he said.
Rooney won one of his four Emmy Awards for a piece on whether there was a real Mrs. Smith who made Mrs. Smith’s Pies. As it turned out, there was no Mrs. Smith.
“I obviously have a knack for getting on paper what a lot of people have thought and didn’t realize they thought,” Rooney once said. “And they say, `Hey, yeah!’ And they like that.”
Rooney was born in Albany, New York, on January 14, 1919. He attended Colgate University until he was drafted into the Army in 1941 and began writing for Stars and Stripes. He won a Bronze Star for his reporting on the battle of Saint-Lo, France.
Rooney got his start in journalism as a writer in the Army and went on to spend nearly six decades at CBS, half behind the camera as a writer and producer and then as an on-air commentator in 1978 when he joined “60 Minutes.” His commentaries earned him the title King of Grouch.
“60 Minutes” made him a cultural icon. For over 30 years, Rooney had the last word on the most watched television program in history. Ratings for the broadcast rose steadily over its time period, peaking at a few minutes before the end of the hour, precisely when he delivered his essays – which could generate thousands of response letters.
Each Sunday, Rooney delivered one of his “60 Minutes” essays from behind a desk that he, an expert woodworker, hewed himself. The topics ranged from the contents of that desk’s drawer to whether God existed.
He often weighed in on major news topics. In an early “60 Minutes” essay that won him the third of his four Emmy Awards, his compromise to the grain embargo against the Soviet Union was to sell them cereal. “Are they going to take us seriously as an enemy if they think we eat Cap’n Crunch for breakfast?” deadpanned Rooney.
In 1990, CBS News suspended him without pay in response to complaints that he had made remarks offensive to black and gay people.
The trigger was a December 1989 special, “A Year With Andy Rooney,” in which he said: “There was some recognition in 1989 of the fact that many of the ills which kill us are self-induced. Too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, cigarettes. They’re all known to lead quite often to premature death.” He later apologized for the statement.
Rooney announced Oct. 2, 2011 in his 1,097th essay for “60 Minutes” that he would no longer appear regularly and delivered his last commentary, in signature style.
“I recently bought this new laptop to use when I travel,” he said. “Look at that, though. It fits right into the briefcase. It weighs less than three pounds. I lose that much getting mad, waiting to get on the plane through security at the airport. “
Mr. Rooney’s wife of 62 years, Marguerite Howard, died in 2004. Mr. Rooney is survived by their four children, Ellen Rooney of London; Martha Fishel of Chevy Chase, Md.; Emily Rooney of Boston; and Brian Rooney of Los Angeles, along with five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. [via Huff Post, CNN, CBS and The New York Times]