Entertainment legend Mickey Rooney, who bounced on stage before he was two and rarely left the spotlight for the next nine decades, first winning fame as the teenage Andy Hardy and then going on to appear in over 100 films, along with stints on television and in the theater, died Sunday at the age of 93.
Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith told the Associated Press that Rooney died at his home in North Hollywood, Calif. in the company of his family. Smith said police took a death report, but indicated that there was nothing suspicious and said it was not a police case. Smith had no additional details on the circumstances of Rooney’s death.
Rooney was the consummate performer. “I‘ve always enjoyed the lights of the theater,” he wrote in his autobiography “Life is Too Short.” “No wonder that even now, when I open a refrigerator door, I feel like performing.”
Along the way, the diminutive Rooney also made headlines for marrying eight wives, including sultry actress Ava Gardner. “Always get married early in the morning,” he once quipped. “That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.”
Rooney was the last surviving big male star from the 1930s and one of the very few actors left who had gone from silent movies to 21st century films.
Even when he wasn’t acting, in his later years, he was still in the spotlight. In March 2011, the then-90-year-old Rooney testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging on the issue of elder abuse in America, saying he had been financially abused by an unnamed family member.
Born Joseph Yule Jr. on September 23, 1920 to vaudeville actors, Rooney crawled onstage at 14 months, a little harmonica around his neck, and his father scooped him up and introduced him to the audience as Sonny Yule. By 17 months he was part of his parents’ routine in a specially tailored tux.
By 14, he had changed his name to Mickey Rooney and signed with MGM Studios; three years later he landed the role of Andy Hardy in the 14-film series that brought him fame and an abiding friendship with Judy Garland.
“Judy and I were so close we could’ve come from the same womb,” he once said. “…There was no love affair there, there was more than a love affair…It was a forever love.”
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.”
He also played multiple television roles, appearing as everyone from a mentally challenged man in “Bill” to retired racehorse trainer Henry Dailey in “The Adventures of the Black Stallion” and appeared as well in the stage play “Sugar Babies.”
In addition, he did a variety of voices for film and television characters, appeared in documentaries and even went on tour with wife Jan in a multi-media live stage production called “Let’s Put on a Show!”
Rooney won two Academy Awards (a 1939 juvenile award and a 1983 Honorary Award), an Emmy and two Golden Globes.