The legendary Hollywood actor, Mickey Rooney, who was one of MGM’s giant box office attractions in the late ’30s and early ’40s, died Sunday surrounded by family at his North Hollywood home. He was 93.
Rooney’s daughter-in-law Charlene Rooney said the actor died of natural causes Sunday afternoon at the home he shared with her and her husband, Mark Rooney. She said he had recently flown to Vancouver, Canada, where he worked on the upcoming film “Night at the Museum 3.”
Born Joe Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rooney was only 17 months old when he made his debut on the vaudeville stage. After adopting the stage name of Mickey Rooney by the age of 14, he appeared in his first film, launching a career that would span nearly his entire life.
Sir Laurence Olivier once referred to him as the greatest film actor America ever produced. In a film and musical career spanning nine decades, Rooney won two honorary Oscars, the first in 1938, the second in 1982, and reigned from 1939 to 1942 as the No. 1 moneymaking star in movies, his run only broken when he joined the Army, says USA Today.
During World War II, Rooney served for more than 21 months, working as a radio personality on the American Forces Network and entertaining more than 2 million troops, and earned a Bronze Star for his efforts.
In 1937, the actor took the part of Andy Hardy in the film “A Family Affair”. Playing the son of a small-town judge proved a huge box-office draw, and spawned a hit series lasting eight years. His breakthrough role as a dramatic actor came in 1938’s “Boys Town” opposite Spencer Tracy and in 1939, 1940 and 1941, he was the world’s biggest box-office draw.
Among his other well-known films were “National Velvet,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” “The Black Stallion” and “Night at the Museum.”
At his peak, he was the incarnation of the show biz lifer, a shameless ham and hoofer whom one could imagine singing, dancing and wisecracking in his crib, his blond hair, big grin and constant motion a draw for millions. He later won an Emmy and was nominated for a Tony.
“I always say, ‘Don’t retire — inspire,'” he told The Associated Press in March 2008. “There’s a lot to be done.”
Rooney’s personal life was a bright as his career. His first wife was the glamorous and gorgeous Ava Gardner, and he married seven more times, fathering seven sons and four daughters. His last wife was Jan Chamberlin. They were married in 1978 and later separated. Asked once if he would marry all his wives again, Rooney replied: “Absolutely. I loved every one of them.”
Like Macaulay Culkin in the 1990s, Rooney had trouble making the transition from kid star to adult actor. But Rooney, ever the realist, knew his time at the top would be short-lived. “I tell you, there are 150 million kids waiting to fill the reservoir,” he told USA TODAY in 1994. “I say bravo to the youngsters. I had my day at bat.”
True to his motto to “never retire but inspire”, Rooney continued to work in film, television and theatre well into his 80s.
Even when he wasn’t acting, in his later years, he was still in the spotlight. Rooney told a US Senate committee on ageing that he had been emotionally and financially abused by family members.
He later said Christopher Aber, Chamberlin’s son, had deprived him of food and medicine, prevented him from leaving the house and meddled in his financial affairs.
“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.”