Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s screen legends, perished Sunday at age 93. The child actor began his career at 18 months in his parents’ vaudeville act, Yule and Carter, and later became the world’s top box-office star at 19. The Brooklyn-born entertainer led a roller-coaster life, from the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt brother-can-you-spare-a-dime in his 40’s, to a Broadway comeback kid as he approached age 60, died on Sunday of natural causes. He was 93 and lived in Westlake Village, CA at the time of his death.
The pint-sized star, who stood just over five feet tall, had a larger than life personality and was a proven comeback artist whose early blockbuster success as the wildly popular Andy Hardy and Judy Garland’s esteemed musical partner and movie-making comrade saw his stardom rebound again 70 years later with roles in Night at the Museum and The Muppets. He led a tumultuous life with many high and low points, especially when it came to financial and career issues. Through it all, Rooney was a jack of all trades in the performance world. He could act, sing, dance, play the piano and drums, and even cry on cue.
Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s screen legends, perished Sunday at age 93. He was born Sept. 23, 1920 as Joe (Sonny) Yule, Jr. to showbiz parents. He gained childhood stardom in film shorts and derived his stage name prior to signing with MGM in 1934. One of his breakout roles came in 1938’s Boys Town alongside iconic actor Spencer Tracy. The film centered around the drama based on Father Edward J. Flanigan’s work with underprivileged boys and Rooney played a delinquent prankster reformed by Tracy’s Father Flanigan. During the period of 1939 to 1941, Rooney was Hollywood’s biggest box office draw. In 1939, America’s theater owners voted Mr. Rooney the number one box-office star over Tyrone Power. Additionally, that same year, he sang and danced his way to an Oscar nomination for best actor in Babes in Arms. Moreover, 1939 marked Rooney’s first teaming with Judy Garland in the MGM musicals that would subsequently help skyrocket their careers. He and Garland ultimately made seven films together–with and without MGM. Rooney also continued his box-office dominance again in 1940 and 1941, over fellow cinema icons Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, respectively.
Rooney’s personal life proved to be as legendary and dynamic as his screen presence. He married eight times–his first wife was 19-year-old starlet Ava Gardner when Rooney was 21 in 1942. They ultimately divorced a year later. Rooney was drafted into the Army in 1944 and met Betty Jane Rase, a former Miss Birmingham at a party. They married in haste and divorced in 1949. Most of his other marriages followed the same self-destructive patterns and ended after only a few years. Rooney’s marital struggles were equally matched by his financial predicaments, thanks to his impulsive ways and addiction to gambling.
Following World War II, Rooney’s career faltered and he was relegated to small B-movie roles and TV spots for several years. However, the actor’s talents were fierce and undeniable and he parlayed such roles as 1954’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri and The Black Stallion in 1979 into a long second career arc. Additionally, his wildly successful Broadway show Sugar Babies ran for three years, followed by a popular one-man road show that continued for four years. Moreover, he continued performing well into the new millennium with roles in 2006’s Night at the Museum and 2011’s The Muppets, as well as other movies. In 2007, he and his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlin, a country singer whom he met through his son Mickey Jr., began touring in a one man-one wife show with the nostalgic title “Let’s Put On a Show.” This last marriage brought stability to his life and helped to revitalize his career once again. As late as 2014, he was still making movies and was in the process of filming a movie at the time of his death.
Through all the ups and downs of Hollywood screen legend Mickey Rooney’s life and career, who perished on Sunday at age 93, there was one constant, his love of performing. He loved what he did, he loved the roar of the crowd, and he never considered it work. Rooney’s later years were also marred by elder abuse accusations against his stepson and stepdaughter, leading the actor to testify before Congress in 2011. He later filed suit against them and it was settled in 2013, with the Abers agreeing that they owed Rooney nearly $3 million. After a lifetime of antics, he ultimately became a devout Christian and churchgoer and his family settled in suburban Thousand Oaks, CA. Rooney’s career achievements include the Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Emmy. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1982. At the end, he was surrounded by his family and loved ones. Rooney is survived by his wife, Jan, and nine children over the course of his eight marriages.
Opinion By Leigh Haugh