A short actor with a long career, Mickey Rooney was the biggest box-office draw in Hollywood in 1939 and spent the next 70 years trying with varying success to make his way back to that pinnacle. Los Angeles Police confirmed that Mr. Rooney died Sunday at 93 years old, the Associated Press reported. He appeared in more than 200 films and was nominated for four Oscars. He started in the silent era and appeared in every decade until the 2010s, a career of nearly unequaled length heightened by the fact that he started in show business as a toddler vaudevillian.
Legendary star Mickey Rooney has died at age 93; George Strait wins entertainer of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards; Malaysia bans Biblical epic “Noah.”
Mr. Rooney was popular in Mickey McGuire shorts where he starred as a street-wise Irish kid, starting when he was just 7. He shot to fame as Andy Hardy, a frenetic teenager who, the Academy Award committee said in his special juvenile Oscar citation, brought to the screen “the spirit and personification of youth.”
It was 1939, the same year that Mr. Rooney starred opposite Judy Garland in “Babes in Arms,” the first of their “let’s put on a show” teamings and the top-grossing film of the year. Other notables from the period include “Boys Town,” “National Velvet” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Mr. Rooney’s depictions of sanitized youth flagged as he and the nation moved on after World War II, and it seemed he was destined for the kind of child-star reputation of a Jackie Coogan or Shirley Temple. But he returned in the 1950s as a TV star, continuing his movie career with smallish parts.
He continued acting, working dinner theater at times, in ensuing decades until 1980, when he unexpectedly won the best actor Tony in his Broadway debut in the burlesque musical “Sugar Babies.”
He had by then had eight marriages, including a brief one to Ava Gardner and another to a former Miss Muscle Beach who later died in a murder-suicide with her lover. He had become a born-again Christian. He had lived through bankruptcy, drug dependency and even playing Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“I am what most people would call a survivor,” he said at the time.
Born in Brooklyn, he was Joe Yule Jr., son of a vaudevillian actor and a dancer. On stage nearly from the time he could walk, he appeared in a tuxedo as “Sonny Yule” and sang tear-jerking songs from the stage to his mother.
His parents divorced when he was 5, and his mother moved to Hollywood, where he starred as Mickey McGuire, then Andy Hardy. Along the way he changed his name to Mickey Rooney and was soon the toast of moviegoers coast to coast.
Appearing as he did in an era when blackface was common, it is perhaps not surprising that his appeal may be hard to understand today. Mr. Rooney himself wrote in a memoir, “I was a gnomish prodigy—half-human, half-goblin, man-child, child-man—as wise in the ways of comedy as Wallace Beery and twice as cute.” A Wall Street Journal critic once opined, “Any picture with Mickey Rooney is bound to be more funny than otherwise.”
Mr. Rooney took numerous character roles in films and guest TV spots after “Sugar Babies” closed on Broadway. He was in several sequels to “The Black Stallion,” a 1979 film for which he was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.
Into his late 80s Mr. Rooney maintained a busy schedule, performing live shows with his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlin, singing songs from old movies and telling stories.
Written by Stephen Miller for The Wall Street Journal