Hollywood great Mickey Rooney dies aged 93

Actor became top box-office star at 19, bankrupt in his 40s, comeback kid on Broadway at 60

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life - the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60, died yesterday. Video: Reuters

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 06:38

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life - the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 - died yesterday.

He was aged 93 and lived in Westlake Village, California. His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than 5 feet (1.5m), but Rooney was larger and louder than life.

From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies“ at 59 and beyond, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million - a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

In 1939, America’s theatre owners voted Rooney the No. 1 box-office star, over Tyrone Power. That same year he sang and danced his way to an Oscar nomination for best actor in “Babes in Arms,“ the first of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show“ MGM musicals he made with Judy Garland.

He was box-office king again in 1940, over Spencer Tracy, and in 1941, with Clark Gable taking second place. Three years earlier, in The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent had written of Rooney’s performance as the swaggering bully redeemed by Tracy’s Father Flanagan in “Boys Town“:

“Mickey is the Dead End gang rolled into one. He’s Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and King Kong before they grew up, or knew a restraining hand. Mickey, as the French would understate it, is the original enfant terrible.“

Rooney’s personal life was as dynamic as his screen presence. He married eight times. He earned $12 million before he was 40 and spent more. Impulsive, recklessly extravagant, mercurial and addicted to playing the ponies and shooting craps, he attacked life as though it were a six-course dinner.

In Rooney‘s later years, his life became tumultuous once again. In 2011 he obtained a restraining order against his stepson Christopher Aber and Aber‘s wife, Christina, charging them with withholding food and medicine and forcing him to sign over his assets. He repeated his allegations in Washington before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. He later filed suit against them; the suit was settled in 2013, with the Abers agreeing that they owed Rooney $2.8 million.

For all the ups and downs of Rooney‘s life and career, there was one constant: his love of performing. “Growing up in vaudeville,“ he once said, “made me cognizant of the need to have fun at what you‘re doing. You can‘t get it done well without it being fun. And I‘ve never felt that what I do is ‘work.’”

New York Times