Legendary actor short in stature, but great in energy, Mickey Rooney passed away at the age of 93. He died in his North Hollywood home of “natural causes” on Sunday. He leaves behind him a legacy that spans nine decades and hundreds of movie, television, stage and radio performances.
Rooney was born on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, NY to vaudevillians Joe and Nellie W. Yule. His career started at the age of two when he would appear alongside his parents during their stage performances. By the age of six he was appearing in silent films. Originally staring in the “Mickey McGuire” silent films, Rooney moved on to MGM’s “Andy Hardy” film series in 1937. His most well-known work, the “Andy Hardy” series spanned 16 films from 1937 to 1958.
During that period Rooney worked on various other MGM films, teaming up with his female counterpart Judy Garland for a large chunk of them, including the Oscar-nominated “Babes in Arms.” Rooney’s dramatic turn in the movie “Boys Town” earned him a Juvenile Academy Award, which was at the time given to outstanding child performers.
In 1944 Rooney enlisted in the Army and served as an entertainer for troops for over 21 months, which earned him a Bronze Star Medal. After the war effort Rooney’s career slumped, but he never stopped working. He remained a character actor for decades after that, appearing in everything from “The Twilight Zone” to “Night at the Museum.” Geek Juice readers will obviously recognize Rooney from his performance as Joe Petto in “Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 5.”
Rooney was notorious for his eight marriages, most of which ended in divorce. His marriage to Jan Chamberlain lasted until his death, although they were separated at the time. They were both outspoken activists for veteran and animal rights and Rooney himself appeared before Congress to speak on elder abuse. Rooney is survived by his wife of 37 years, eight children, 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. Our condolences go out to them.
On a personal note, let me say that it hurts to see the great stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood almost gone. I grew up with old radio shows that I would find at the library on cassette or CD, allowing me to hear these celebrities laughing and having fun on “The Bob Hope Show” or “Command Performance.” Heck, Jack Benny is my favorite comedian and my favorite horror story I heard on “X Minus One.” These radio shows spurred me to see lots of old musicals and comedies, far more then most of my generation has even heard of. Of course among these were the works of Mickey Rooney. He had a kind of charming wholesomeness to him and an energy that was hard to ignore. He was truly unique among child stars at the time, and certainly unlike any we have now.
Out of the remaining Golden Age stars Mickey Rooney is the one whose work I know the best and who mainstream culture can still recognize. I will mourn the death of an era. An era of innocence, energy, and inter-connectivity that while may have been (or was) just as corrupt and cutthroat as today’s entertainment industry, it sure worked a hell of a lot harder to hide that fact. The stars of the silver screen and of sound waves unified the country during times of darkness in a way that hasn’t been replicated since. For the most part they’ve been forgotten and replaced, but their legacy lives on in their films, broadcasts, TV shows, and most importantly in the hearts of their fans. Through sharing their lives and stories with us they became, in a way, our friends… my friends, and I sure won’t stop watching, listening, or remembering.
As a great man once said, “Thanks for the memories.”