Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule Jr.; September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014) was an American actor, vaudevillian, comedian, producer and radio personality. In a career spanning nine decades and continuing until shortly before his death, he appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era.[1]

Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney in 1945
Joseph Yule Jr.

(1920-09-23)September 23, 1920
DiedApril 6, 2014(2014-04-06) (aged 93)
Burial placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Other namesMichael McGuire
Michael Rooney
  • Actor
  • vaudevillian
  • comedian
  • producer
  • radio personality
Years active1923–2014
Height5 ft 2 in (157 cm)
  • Ava Gardner
    (m. 1942; div. 1943)
  • Betty Jane Phillips
    (m. 1944; div. 1949)
  • Martha Vickers
    (m. 1949; div. 1951)
  • Elaine Devry
    (m. 1952; div. 1958)
  • Barbara Ann Thomason
    (m. 1958; died 1966)
  • Marge Lane
    (m. 1966; div. 1967)
  • Carolyn Hockett
    (m. 1969; div. 1975)
  • Jan Chamberlin (m. 1978)
Children11, including Mickey, Tim, and Michael
RelativesTeddy Rooney
Jan Rooney
AwardsJuvenile Academy Award, Academy Honorary Award, Emmy, 2 Golden Globes

At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, Rooney performed the role of Andy Hardy in a series of 16 films in the 1930s and 1940s that epitomized American family values. A versatile performer, he became a celebrated character actor later in his career. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney "the best there has ever been".[2] Clarence Brown, who directed him in two of his earliest dramatic roles, National Velvet and The Human Comedy, said he was "the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with".[3]

Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at the age of six. At 14 he played Puck in the play and later the 1935 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Critic David Thomson hailed his performance as "one of the cinema's most arresting pieces of magic". In 1938, he co-starred in Boys Town. At 19 he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar for his leading role in Babes in Arms, and he was awarded a special Academy Juvenile Award in 1939.[4] At the peak of his career between the ages of 15 and 25, he made 43 films, which made him one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's most consistently successful actors and a favorite of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer.

Rooney was the top box-office attraction from 1939 to 1941[5] and one of the best-paid actors of that era,[2] but his career would never again rise to such heights. Drafted into the Army during World War II, he served nearly two years entertaining over two million troops on stage and radio and was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones. Returning from the war in 1945, he was too old for juvenile roles but too short to be an adult movie star, and was unable to get as many starring roles. Nevertheless, Rooney's popularity was renewed with well-received supporting roles in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion (1979). In the early 1980s, he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies and again became a celebrated star. Rooney made hundreds of appearances on TV, including dramas, variety programs, and talk shows, and won an Emmy in 1982 plus a Golden Globe for his role in Bill (1981).

Early life

Rooney was born Joseph Yule Jr. on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of vaudevillians Nellie W. Carter, from Kansas City, Missouri and Joe Yule, a native of Glasgow, Scotland.[6] His mother was a former chorus girl and a burlesque performer.[2] When Rooney was born, his parents were appearing in a Brooklyn production of A Gaiety Girl. Rooney later recounted in his memoirs that he began performing at the age of 17 months as part of his parents' routine, wearing a specially tailored tuxedo.[7][8][9]


Child actor

Rooney's parents separated when he was four years old in 1924, and he and his mother moved to Hollywood the following year from Greenpoint, Brooklyn.[10] He made his first film appearance at age six in 1926, in the short Not to be Trusted.[2][11] Rooney got bit parts in films such as The Beast of the City (1932) and The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), which allowed him to work alongside stars such as Joel McCrea, Colleen Moore, Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Wayne and Jean Harlow. He enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School and later attended Hollywood High School, graduating in 1938.[12][13]

Mickey McGuire

His mother saw an advertisement for a child to play the role of "Mickey McGuire" in a series of short films.[14] Rooney got the role and became "Mickey" for 78 of the comedies, running from 1927 to 1936, starting with Mickey's Circus (1927), his first starring role.[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] During this period, he also briefly voiced Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.[18] He made other films in his adolescence, including several more of the McGuire films. At age 15 he played the role of Puck in the Warner Brothers all-star adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1935. Rooney then moved to MGM, where he befriended Judy Garland, with whom he began making a series of musicals that propelled both of them to stardom.[19][20][21]

Andy Hardy, Boys Town and Hollywood stardom

In 1937, Rooney was selected to portray Andy Hardy in A Family Affair, which MGM had planned as a B-movie.[14] Rooney provided comic relief as the son of Judge James K. Hardy, portrayed by Lionel Barrymore (although Lewis Stone would play the role of Judge Hardy in subsequent films). The film was an unexpected success, and led to 13 more Andy Hardy films between 1937 and 1946, and a final film in 1958.

According to author Barry Monush, MGM wanted the Andy Hardy films to appeal to all family members. Rooney's character would portray a typical "anxious, hyperactive, girl-crazy teenager", and he soon became the unintended main star of the films. Although some critics describe the series of films as "sweet, overly idealized, and pretty much interchangeable," their ultimate success was because they gave viewers a "comforting portrait of small-town America that seemed suited for the times", with Rooney instilling "a lasting image of what every parent wished their teen could be like".[22]

Behind the scenes, however, Rooney was like the "hyperactive girl-crazy teenager" he portrayed on the screen. Wallace Beery, his co-star in Stablemates, described him as a "brat", but a "fine actor".[23] MGM head Louis B. Mayer found it necessary to manage Rooney's public image, explains historian Jane Ellen Wayne:

Mayer naturally tried to keep all his child actors in line, like any father figure. After one such episode, Mickey Rooney replied, "I won't do it. You're asking the impossible." Mayer then grabbed young Rooney by his lapels and said, "Listen to me! I don't care what you do in private. Just don't do it in public. In public, behave. Your fans expect it. You're Andy Hardy! You're the United States! You're the Stars and Stripes. Behave yourself! You're a symbol!" Mickey nodded. "I'll be good, Mr. Mayer. I promise you that." Mayer let go of his lapels, "All right," he said.[24]

Fifty years later, Rooney realized in hindsight that these early confrontations with Mayer were necessary for him to develop into a leading film star: "Everybody butted heads with him, but he listened and you listened. And then you'd come to an agreement you could both live with. ... He visited the sets, he gave people talks ... What he wanted was something that was American, presented in a cosmopolitan manner."Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Pavilion Books. p. 323. ISBN 978-1-86105-892-8.

In 1937, Rooney made his first film alongside Judy Garland with Thoroughbreds Don't Cry.[25] Garland and Rooney became close friends as they co-starred in future films and became a successful song-and-dance team. Audiences delighted in seeing the "playful interactions between the two stars showcase a wonderful chemistry".[26] Along with three of the Andy Hardy films, where she portrayed a girl attracted to Andy, they appeared together in a string of successful musicals, including Babes in Arms (1939). During an interview in the 1992 documentary film MGM: When the Lion Roars, Rooney describes their friendship:[27]

Judy and I were so close we could've come from the same womb. We weren't like brothers or sisters but there was no love affair there; there was more than a love affair. It's very, very difficult to explain the depths of our love for each other. It was so special. It was a forever love. Judy, as we speak, has not passed away. She's always with me in every heartbeat of my body.

In 1937, Rooney received top billing as Shockey Carter in Hoosier Schoolboy but his breakthrough-role as a dramatic actor came in 1938's Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, who runs a home for wayward and homeless boys. Rooney was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939, for "significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth".[28][29] Wayne describes one of the "most famous scenes" in the film, where tough young Rooney is playing poker with a cigarette in his mouth, his hat is cocked and his feet are up on the table. "Tracy grabs him by the lapels, throws the cigarette away and pushes him into a chair. 'That's better,' he tells Mickey."[24] Louis B. Mayer said Boys Town was his favorite film during his years at MGM.[28]

The popularity of his films made Rooney the biggest box-office draw in 1939, 1940 and 1941.[30] For their roles in Boys Town, Rooney and Tracy won first and second place in the Motion Picture Herald 1940 National Poll of Exhibitors, based on the box office appeal of 200 players. Boys' Life magazine wrote, "Congratulations to Messrs. Rooney and Tracy! Also to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer we extend a hearty thanks for their very considerable part in this outstanding achievement."[31] Actor Laurence Olivier once called Rooney "the greatest actor of them all".[32]

A major star in the early 1940s, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1940, timed to coincide with the release of Young Tom Edison;[33] the cover story began:[34]

Hollywood's No. 1 box office bait in 1939 was not Clark Gable, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, but a rope-haired, kazoo-voiced kid with a comic-strip face, who until this week had never appeared in a picture without mugging or overacting it. His name (assumed) was Mickey Rooney, and to a large part of the more articulate U.S. cinema audience, his name was becoming a frequently used synonym for brat.

During his long and illustrious career, Rooney also worked with many of the screen's female stars, including Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944) and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)."[35] Rooney's "bumptiousness and boyish charm" as an actor would develop more "smoothness and polish" over the years, writes biographer Scott Eyman. The fact that Rooney fully enjoyed his life as an actor played a large role in those changes:

You weren't going to work, you were going to have fun. It was home, everybody was cohesive; it was family. One year I made nine pictures; I had to go from one set to another. It was like I was on a conveyor belt. You did not read a script and say, "I guess I'll do it." You did it. They had people that knew the kind of stories that were suited to you. It was a conveyor belt that made motion pictures.[36]

Clarence Brown, who directed Rooney in his Oscar-nominated performance in The Human Comedy (1943) and again in National Velvet (1944), enjoyed working with Rooney in films:

Mickey Rooney is the closest thing to a genius that I ever worked with. There was Chaplin, then there was Rooney. The little bastard could do no wrong in my book ... All you had to do with him was rehearse it once.[37]

World War II and later career

In June 1944, Rooney was inducted into the United States Army, where [38] he served more than 21 months (until shortly after the end of World War II) entertaining the troops in America and Europe in Special Services. He spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. In addition to the Bronze Star Medal, Rooney also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal, for his military service.[39][40][41]

Rooney's career slumped after his return to civilian life. He was now an adult with a height of only 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m)[42] and he could no longer play the role of a teenager, but he also lacked the stature of most leading men. He appeared in a number of films, including Words and Music in 1948, which paired him for the last time with Garland on film (he appeared with her on one episode as a guest on The Judy Garland Show). He briefly starred in a CBS radio series, Shorty Bell, in the summer of 1948, and reprised his role as "Andy Hardy", with most of the original cast, in a syndicated radio version of The Hardy Family in 1949 and 1950 (repeated on Mutual during 1952).[43]

In 1949 Variety reported that Rooney had renegotiated his deal with MGM. He agreed to make one film a year for them for five years at $25,000 a movie (his fee until then had been $100,000 but Rooney wanted to enter independent production.) Rooney claimed he was unhappy with the billing MGM gave him for Words and Music.[44]

His first television series, The Mickey Rooney Show, also known as Hey, Mulligan, was created by Blake Edwards with Rooney as his own producer, and appeared on NBC television for 32 episodes between August 28, 1954 and June 4, 1955.[45] In 1951, he made his directorial debut with My True Story, starring Helen Walker.[46] Rooney also starred as a ragingly egomaniacal television comedian, loosely based on Red Buttons, in the live 90-minute television drama The Comedian, in the Playhouse 90 series on the evening of Valentine's Day in 1957, and as himself in a revue called The Musical Revue of 1959 based on the 1929 film The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which was edited into a film in 1960.

In 1958, Rooney joined Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in hosting an episode of NBC's short-lived Club Oasis comedy and variety show. In 1960, Rooney directed and starred in The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, an ambitious comedy known for its multiple flashbacks and many cameos. In the 1960s, Rooney returned to theatrical entertainment. He still accepted film roles in undistinguished films but occasionally would appear in better works, such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

He portrayed a Japanese character, Mr. Yunioshi, in the 1961 film version of Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's. His performance was criticized by some in subsequent years as a racist stereotype.[47][48] Rooney later said that he would not have taken the role if he had known it would offend people.[49]

On December 31, 1961, Rooney appeared on television's What's My Line and mentioned that he had already started enrolling students in the MRSE (Mickey Rooney School of Entertainment). His school venture never came to fruition. This was a period of professional distress for Rooney; as a childhood friend, director Richard Quine put it: "Let's face it. It wasn't all that easy to find roles for a 5-foot-3 man who'd passed the age of Andy Hardy."[50] In 1962, his debts had forced him into filing for bankruptcy.[51]

In 1966, Rooney was working on the film Ambush Bay in the Philippines when his wife Barbara Ann Thomason— a former model and aspiring actress who had won 17 straight beauty contests in Southern California—was found dead in her bed. Her lover, Milos Milos—who was one of Rooney's actor-friends—was found dead beside her. Detectives ruled it a murder-suicide, which was committed with Rooney's own gun.[52]

Francis Ford Coppola had bought the rights to make The Black Stallion (1979), and when casting it, he called Rooney and asked him if he thought he could play a jockey. Rooney replied saying, "Gee, I don't know. I never played a jockey before." He was kidding, he said, since he had played a jockey in at least three past films, including Down the Stretch, Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, and National Velvet.[53] The film garnered excellent reviews and earned $40 million in its first run, which gave Coppola's struggling studio, American Zoetrope, a major boost. It also gave Rooney newfound recognition, along with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.[54]

In 1983, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Rooney their Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime of achievement.[55][56][57]

Character roles and Broadway comeback

Television roles

In addition to his movie roles, Rooney made numerous guest-starring roles as a television character actor for nearly six decades, beginning with an episode of Celanese Theatre. The part led to other roles on such television series as Schlitz Playhouse,[58] Playhouse 90,[58] Producers' Showcase, Alcoa Theatre,[58] The Soldiers, Wagon Train, General Electric Theater,[59] Hennesey,[60] The Dick Powell Theatre,[61] Arrest and Trial (1964),[61] Burke's Law (1963),[58] Combat! (1964),[61] The Fugitive, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Jean Arthur Show (1966),[61] The Name of the Game (1970),[58] Dan August (1970),[62] Night Gallery (1970),[62] The Love Boat,[63] Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1995),[62] Murder, She Wrote (1992),[62] The Golden Girls (1988)[62] among many others.

In 1961, he guest-starred in the 13-week James Franciscus adventure–drama CBS television series The Investigators.[61] In 1962, he was cast as himself in the episode "The Top Banana" of the CBS sitcom, Pete and Gladys,[58] starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams.

In 1963, he entered CBS's The Twilight Zone,[64] giving a one-man performance in the episode "The Last Night of a Jockey" (1963).[61] Also in 1963, in 'The Hunt' for Suspense Theater,[61] he played the sadistic sheriff hunting the young surfer played by James Caan. In 1964, he launched another half-hour sitcom, Mickey. The story line had "Mickey" operating a resort hotel in southern California. His own son Tim Rooney appeared as his character's teenage son on this program, and Emmaline Henry starred as Rooney's wife. The program lasted for 17 episodes.[50]

Rooney garnered a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for his role in 1981's Bill. Playing opposite Dennis Quaid, Rooney's character was a mentally handicapped man attempting to live on his own after leaving an institution. His acting quality in the film has been favorably compared to other actors who took on similar roles, including Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks.[65] He reprised his role in 1983's Bill: On His Own, earning an Emmy nomination for the turn.

Rooney did voice acting from time to time. He provided the voice of Santa Claus in four stop-motion animated Christmas TV specials: Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974),[66] Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)[66] and A Miser Brothers' Christmas (2008). In 1995, he appeared as himself on The Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man".[62]

After starring in one unsuccessful TV series and turning down an offer for a huge TV series, Rooney, now 70, starred in the Family Channel's The Adventures of the Black Stallion, where he reprised his role as Henry Dailey in the film of the same name, eleven years earlier.[63] The series ran for three years and was an international hit.,[67]

Rooney appeared in television commercials for Garden State Life Insurance Company in 2002.[68]

Broadway shows

A major turning point came in 1979, when Rooney made his Broadway debut in the acclaimed stage play Sugar Babies, a musical revue tribute to the burlesque era costarring former MGM dancing star Ann Miller. Aljean Harmetz noted that "Mr. Rooney fought over every skit and argued over every song and almost always got things done his way. The show opened on Broadway on October 8, 1979, to rave reviews, and this time he did not throw success away.[69] Rooney and Miller performed the show 1,208 times in New York and then toured with it for five years, including eight months in London.[70] Co-star Miller recalls that Rooney "never missed a performance or a chance to ad-lib or read the lines the same way twice, if he even stuck to the script".[51] Biographer Alvin Marill states that "at 59, Mickey Rooney was reincarnated as a baggy-pants comedian—back as a top banana in show biz in his belated Broadway debut."[51]

Following this, he toured as Pseudelous in Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.[71] In the 1990s, he returned to Broadway for the final months of Will Rogers Follies, playing the ghost of Will's father.[72] On television, he starred in the short-lived sitcom, One of the Boys,[73] along with two unfamiliar young stars, Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane, in 1982.

He toured Canada in a dinner theatre production of The Mind with the Naughty Man in the mid-1990s.[74] He played The Wizard in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz with Eartha Kitt at Madison Square Garden.[75] Kitt was later replaced by Jo Anne Worley.

Final years

Rooney wrote a memoir titled Life is Too Short, published by Villard Books in 1991. A Library Journal review said that "From title to the last line, 'I'll have a short bier', Rooney's self-deprecating humor powers this book." He wrote a novel about a child star, published in 1994, The Search For Sunny Skies.[76]

Despite the millions of dollars that he earned over the years, such as his $65,000 a week earnings from Sugar Babies, Rooney was plagued by financial problems late in life. His longtime gambling habit caused him to "gamble away his fortune again and again". He declared bankruptcy for the second time in 1996 and described himself as "broke" in 2005. He kept performing on stage and in the movies, but his personal property was valued at only $18,000 when he died in 2014.[77]

Rooney and his wife Jan toured the country in 2005 through 2011 in a musical revue called Let's Put on a Show. Vanity Fair called it "a homespun affair full of dog-eared jokes" that featured Rooney singing George Gershwin songs.[5]

In 2006, Rooney played Gus in Night at the Museum.[78][79] He returned to play the role again in the sequel Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in 2009, in a scene that was deleted from the final film.[78]

On May 26, 2007, he was grand marshal at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. Rooney made his British pantomime debut, playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella, at the Sunderland Empire Theatre over the 2007 Christmas period,[80][81] a role he reprised at Bristol Hippodrome in 2008 and at the Milton Keynes theatre in 2009.[82]

In 2011, Rooney made a brief cameo appearance in The Muppets and in 2014, at age 93, he reprised his role as Gus in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, with the film being dedicated in the honor of Rooney and Robin Williams, who also died that year.[83] Although confined to a wheelchair, he was described by director Shawn Levy as "energetic and so pleased to be there. He was just happy to be invited to the party."[84]

An October 2015 article in The Hollywood Reporter maintained that Rooney was frequently abused and financially depleted by his closest relatives in the last years of his life. The article said that it was clear that "one of the biggest stars of all time, who remained aloft longer than anyone in Hollywood history, was in the end brought down by those closest to him. He died humiliated and betrayed, nearly broke and often broken."[2] Rooney suffered from bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide two or three times over the years, with resulting hospitalizations reported as "nervous breakdowns".[2]

Personal life

At the time of his death, he was married to Jan Chamberlin Rooney, although they had separated in June 2012.[85] He had nine children and two stepchildren, as well as 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.[86][87] Rooney had been addicted to sleeping pills, and overcame the sleeping pill addiction in 2000 when he was in his late 70s.[5]

In the late 70's, Mickey became a born-again Christian and was a fan of Pat Robertson.[88]

On February 16, 2011, Rooney was granted a temporary restraining order against stepson Christopher Aber and Aber's wife, Christina, and they were ordered to stay 100 yards from Rooney, his stepson Mark Rooney and his wife, Charlene Rooney.[89][90] Rooney claimed that he was a victim of elder abuse.[91]

On March 2, 2011, Rooney appeared before a special U.S. Senate committee that was considering legislation to curb elder abuse, testifying about the abuse he claimed to have suffered at the hands of family members.[89] In 2011 all of Rooney's finances were permanently handed over to a conservator,[92] who called Rooney "completely competent".[91]

In April 2011, the temporary restraining order that Rooney was previously granted was replaced by a confidential settlement between Rooney and his stepson, Aber.[93] Christopher Aber and Jan Rooney denied all the allegations.[94][95]

In 1997, Rooney was arrested on suspicion of beating his wife, but charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.[96]

In May 2013, Rooney sold his home of many years, reportedly for $1.3 million, and split the proceeds with his wife, Jan.[11][97]


Rooney was married eight times, with six of the marriages ending in divorce. In 1942, he married his first wife, actress Ava Gardner, who at that time was still an obscure teenage starlet. They divorced the following year, partly because he had apparently been unfaithful.[2] While stationed in the military in Alabama in 1944, Rooney met and married Betty Jane Phillips, who later became a singer under the name B.J. Baker. They had two sons together. This marriage ended in divorce after he returned from Europe at the end of World War II. His marriage to actress Martha Vickers in 1949 produced one son but ended in divorce in 1951. He married actress Elaine Mahnken in 1952 and they divorced in 1958.[86][87]

In 1958, Rooney married Barbara Ann Thomason, but she was murdered by her secret lover in 1966.[98] He then married Barbara's best friend, Marge Lane. That marriage lasted 100 days. He was married to Carolyn Hockett from 1969 to 1975.[86] In 1978, Rooney married his eighth and final wife, Jan Chamberlin. Their marriage lasted until his death, a total of 34 years (longer than his seven previous unions combined), although they separated in 2012.[85]

Ava Gardner 1942–43
Betty Jane Rase (née Phillips) 1944–49 2, Mickey Rooney, Jr. and Tim Rooney
Martha Vickers 1949–51 1[99]
Elaine Devry
(a.k.a.: Elaine Davis)
1952–58 2, Jimmy and Jonelle
Barbara Ann Thomason
(a.k.a.: Tara Thomas, Carolyn Mitchell)
1958–66 4, including Michael Joseph Rooney
Marge Lane 1966–67
Carolyn Hockett 1969–75 2
Jan Chamberlin 1978–2014 (separated, June 2012)[85]


Rooney died on April 6, 2014 of natural causes,[100] including complications from diabetes, in Los Angeles at the age of 93.[101] A group of family members and friends, including Mickey Rourke, held a memorial service on April 18. A private funeral, organized by another set of family members, was held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where he was interred, on April 19. His eight surviving children said in a statement that they were barred from seeing Rooney during his final years.[102][103][104]

At his death, Vanity Fair called him "the original Hollywood train wreck".[5] He struggled with alcohol and pill addiction. Ava Gardner was his first wife, and he would go on to marry an additional seven times. Despite earning millions during his career, he had to file for bankruptcy in 1962 due to mismanagement of his finances. Shortly before his death in 2014 at age 93, he accused some family members of mistreatment and testified before Congress about what he said was physical abuse and exploitation by family members. By the end of his life, his millions in earnings had dwindled to an estate that was valued at only $18,000. He died owing medical bills and back taxes, and contributions were solicited from the public.[105][106]


Rooney was one of the last surviving actors of the silent picture era. His movie career spanned 88 years, from 1926 to 2014, continuing until shortly before his death. During his peak years from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Rooney was among the top box-office stars in the United States.[107]

He made forty-three pictures between the age of 15 and 25. Among those, his role as Andy Hardy became one of "Hollywood's best-loved characters," with Marlon Brando calling him "the best actor in films".[22]

"There was nothing he couldn't do", said actress Margaret O'Brien.[107] MGM boss Louis B. Mayer treated him like a son and saw in Rooney "the embodiment of the amiable American boy who stands for family, humbug, and sentiment," writes critic and author, David Thomson.[108]

By the time Rooney was 20, his consistent portrayals of characters with youth and energy suggested that his future success was unlimited. Thomson also explains that Rooney's characters were able to cover a wide range of emotional types, and gives three examples where "Rooney is not just an actor of genius, but an artist able to maintain a stylized commentary on the demon impulse of the small, belligerent man:"[108]

Rooney's Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) is truly inhuman, one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic. ... His toughie in Boys Town (1938) struts and bullies like something out of a nightmare and then comes clean in a grotesque but utterly frank outburst of sentimentality in which he aspires to the boy community ... His role as Baby Face Nelson (1957), the manic, destructive response of the runt against a pig society.[108]

By the end of the 1940s, Rooney's movie characters were no longer in demand and his career went downhill. "In 1938," he said, "I starred in eight pictures. In 1948 and 1949 together, I starred in only three."[57] However, film historian Jeanine Basinger notes that although his career "reached the heights and plunged to the depths, Rooney kept on working and growing, the mark of a professional." Some of the films which reinvigorated his popularity, were Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Black Stallion (1979). In the early 1980s, he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies, and "found himself once more back on top".[57]

Basinger tries to encapsulate Rooney's career:

Rooney's abundant talent, like his film image, might seem like a metaphor for America: a seemingly endless supply of natural resources that could never dry up, but which, it turned out, could be ruined by excessive use and abuse, by arrogance or power, and which had to be carefully tended to be returned to full capacity. From child star to character actor, from movie shorts to television specials, and from films to Broadway, Rooney ultimately did prove he could do it all, do it well, and keep on doing it. His is a unique career, both for its versatility and its longevity.[57]


One of the most enduring performers in show business history, Rooney appeared in over 300 films in 88 years. He was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era, having one of the longest careers in movie history.[1]


Awards and honors


YearAssociationCategoryNominated work / HonorResult
1938Academy AwardsAcademy Juvenile Award(with Deanna Durbin)
"For their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement."
1939Best Actor in a Leading RoleBabes in ArmsNominated
1943Best Actor in a Leading RoleThe Human ComedyNominated
1956Best Actor in a Supporting RoleThe Bold and the BraveNominated
1979Best Actor in a Supporting RoleThe Black StallionNominated
1957Emmy AwardsBest Single Performance in a Leading or Supporting Role"The Comedian", episode of Playhouse 90Nominated
1958Best Single Performance in a Leading or Supporting RoleAlcoa Theatre: "Eddie"Nominated
1961Best Single Performance in a Leading or Supporting Role"Somebody's Waiting", episode of The Dick Powell ShowNominated
1964Golden Globe AwardsBest TV Star – MaleMickeyWon
1980Tony AwardsBest Performance by a Leading Actor in a MusicalSugar BabiesNominated
1980Drama Desk AwardsOutstanding Actor in a MusicalSugar BabiesNominated
1981Emmy AwardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or SpecialBillWon
1981Golden Globe AwardsBest Actor in a TV Mini-Series or Motion PictureBillWon
1983Academy AwardsAcademy Honorary Award"In recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances."Honored
1983Emmy AwardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a SpecialBill: On His OwnNominated
1991Gemini AwardsBest Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic RoleThe Adventures of the Black StallionNominated
1991Young Artist AwardsFormer Child Star AwardFor lifetime achievement as a child star
(Subsequently renamed "The Mickey Rooney Award")
1996Giffoni Film FestivalFrançois Truffaut AwardHonored


In May 1956, Rooney received an honorary PhD in Fine Arts from both Fremont College and degree mill Sequoia University due to his work in the entertainment field.[109][110]

On February 8, 1960, Rooney was initiated into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a star heralding his work in motion pictures, located at 1718 Vine Street, one for his television career located at 6541 Hollywood Boulevard, and a third dedicated to his work in radio, located at 6372 Hollywood Boulevard. On March 29, 1984, he received a fourth star, this one for his live performances, located at 6211 Hollywood Boulevard.[111]

In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to Rooney.[112]

See also


  1. The film was long believed lost, but in 2014 was reported found in the Netherlands.[15]
  2. The Mickey McGuire films were adapted from the Toonerville Trolley comic strip, which contained a character named Mickey McGuire. Joe Yule briefly became Mickey McGuire legally "trump an attempted copyright lawsuit so the film producer Larry Darmour would not have to pay the comic strip writers royalties" His mother also changed her surname to McGuire in an attempt to bolster the argument, but the film producers lost. The litigation settlement awarded damages to the owners of the cartoon character, compelling the twelve-year-old actor to refrain from calling himself Mickey McGuire on- and off-screen.[16][17]
    During an interruption in the series in 1932, Mrs. Yule made plans to take her son on a 10-week vaudeville tour as McGuire, and Fox sued successfully to stop him from using the name. Mrs. Yule suggested the stage name of Mickey Looney for her comedian son. He altered this to Rooney, which did not infringe upon the copyright of Warner Brothers' animation series called Looney Tunes.[14]


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  3. "Iconic Actor Mickey Rooney Dies At 93". Dallas News. April 7, 2014. Retrieved September 3, 2019.
  4. Los Angeles Times (April 7, 2014). "Mickey Rooney: A long and remarkable career in film, TV". latimes.com. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  5. Sales, Nancy Jo (April 7, 2014). "Mickey Rooney Blew Through Wives and Fortunes, but God, What a Talent!". Vanity Fair. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
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  8. Bernstein, Adam (April 7, 2014). "Mickey Rooney dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  9. Lertzman & Birnes 2015, pp. 24-27.
  10. Ogle, Vanessa (March 24, 2015). "Authors share obscure history of Greenpoint". Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
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  13. "Notable Graduates – Alumni – Hollywood High School". www.hollywoodhighschool.net.
  14. Current Biography 1942. H.W. Wilson Co. (January 1942). pp. 704–06. ISBN 99903-960-3-5.
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  16. Server, Lee (2007). Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing". St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1-4299-0874-0.
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  34. "Cinema: Success Story". Time. March 18, 1940. Retrieved September 16, 2013. Hollywood's No. 1 box office bait in 1939 was not Clark Gable, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, but a rope-haired, kazoo-voiced kid with a comic-strip face, who until this week had never appeared in a picture without mugging or overacting it. His name (assumed) was Mickey Rooney, and to a large part of the more articulate U. S. cinema audience, his name was becoming a frequently used synonym for brat.
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