Movie star Mickey Rooney dies at 93

AP

Mickey Rooney, the pint-size, precocious actor and all-around talent whose more than 80-year career spanned silent comedies, Shakespeare, Judy Garland musicals, Andy Hardy stardom, television and the Broadway theater, died Sunday at age 93.

Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith said that Rooney was with his family when he died at his North Hollywood home.

Smith said police took a death report but indicated that there was nothing suspicious and it was not a police case. He said he had no additional details on the circumstances of his passing.

Rooney started his career in his parents’ vaudeville act while still a toddler, and broke into movies before age 10. He was still racking up film and TV credits more than 80 years later — a tenure likely unmatched in the history of show business.

“I always say, ‘Don’t retire — inspire,’ ” he said in a March 2008 interview. “There’s a lot to be done.”

Among his roles in recent years was a part as a guard in the smash 2006 comedy “A Night at the Museum.”

Rooney won two special Academy Awards for his film achievements, and reigned from 1939 to 1942 as the No. 1 moneymaking star in movies, his run only broken when he joined the army. At his peak, he was the incarnation of the showbiz 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.

“Mickey Rooney, to me, is the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with,” Clarence Brown, who directed his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Human Comedy,” once said.

Rooney’s personal life matched his film roles for color. His first wife was the glamorous — and taller — Ava Gardner, and he married seven more times, fathering seven sons and four daughters.

Through divorces, money problems and career droughts, he kept returning with customary vigor.

“I’ve been coming back like a rubber ball for years,” he commented in 1979, the year he returned with a character role in “The Black Stallion,” drawing an Oscar nomination as supporting actor, one of four nominations he earned over the years.

That same year he starred with Ann Miller in a revue called “Sugar Babies,” a hokey mixture of vaudeville and burlesque. It opened in New York in October 1979, and immediately became Broadway’s hottest ticket. Rooney received a Tony nomination (as did Miller) and earned millions during his years with the show.

Rooney was among the last survivors of Hollywood’s studio era, which his career predated. Rooney signed a contract with MGM in 1934 and landed his first big role as Clark Gable as a boy in “Manhattan Melodrama.” A loanout to Warner Bros. brought him praise as an exuberant Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which also featured James Cagney and a young Olivia de Havilland.

Rooney was soon earning $300 a week with featured roles in such films as “Riff Raff,” “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous,” “The Devil Is a Sissy,” and most notably, as a brat humbled by Spencer Tracy’s Father Flanagan in “Boys Town.”

The big break came with the wildly popular Andy Hardy series, beginning with “A Family Affair.”

But Rooney became 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.

The marriage ended in a year, and Rooney joined the army in 1943, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.

Rooney returned to Hollywood and disillusionment. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nosedive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.

“I began to realize how few friends everyone has,” he wrote in his second autobiography. “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.

His later career proved his resilience: The Oscar nomination for “Black Stallion.” The “Sugar Babies” hit that captivated New York, London, Las Vegas and major U.S. cities. Voicing animated features like “The Fox and the Hound,” “The Care Bears Movie” and “Little Nemo.” An Emmy for his portrayal of a disturbed man in the 1981 TV movie “Bill.”

In 1983, the Motion Picture Academy presented Rooney with an honorary Oscar for his “60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances.”

Born Joe Yule Jr. in 1920, he 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.

Young Joe Yule won the lead in a series of Mickey McGuire comedies, meant to rival Hal Roach’s “Our Gang.” He also acquired a new name: Mickey McGuire.

The boy was also playing kid parts in features, and his name seemed inappropriate. His mother suggested Rooney, after the vaudeville dancer, Pat Rooney.

In 1978, Rooney, 57, married for the eighth 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.

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 sued his stepson Christopher Aber and others 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. 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.” Both Rooney and his conservator were named as plaintiffs.