A beloved remnant of the Hollywood of yore from the early 20th century, Mickey Rooney has remained active in his onscreen acting career in recent years, nearly 90 years after his first appearance in a movie at age 6. Unfortunately, today we have to report that the hard-working veteran of the big screen, small screen, and the stage has made his final bow, having passed away at age 93, as has been confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.
Born Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, New York, in the year 1920, Rooney was (literally) a lifelong performer, as he began working alongside his parents in vaudeville when he was 17 months old. His ability to sing, dance, act, and play various musical instruments (very) quickly got him employed in Tinseltown, as Rooney began acting at age 6 in the short film “Not to Be Trusted”.
He thereafter began playing the character who would come to be known as Mickey McGuire in the 1927 short comedy “Mickey’s Circus”, before Rooney would reprise as the silent-film era character more than 50 times over the subsequent decade.
McGuire was a street-wise kid who caused much in the way of mischief (often involving babysitting his younger brother), though in later years the character became a hero of sorts, often helping the down-trodden and less fortunate people. That devotion to irreverent entertainment, yet being armed with a social conscience and big ol’ heart of gold within the rough edges, would go on to define a good chunk of Rooney’s career-work over the many, many years ahead.
Rooney took on additional work during his tenure playing McGuire, such as voicing Walt Disney’s pre-Mickey Mouse cartoon creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in a handful of shorts and headlining The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a few years later in 1939. That was not long after he began portraying the character of Andrew Hardy in 1937 with A Family Affair, before playing the role in more than 15 movies total. Hardy, like McGuire, was constantly landing in hot water for his comical misdeeds, before he would learn a valuable lesson and change his misbehaving ways (until the next film, anyway).
In Love Finds Andy Hardy, Rooney costarred opposite Judy Garland; the pair went on to form a strong friendship in real-life, while also working together onscreen in a string of musicals, including Babes in Arms in 1940 (which landed Rooney an Oscar nomination), as well as Babes on Broadway and Girl Crazy. While he was already beloved across the U.S. by that point, Rooney also became a box office titan during the 1940s, after being voted the number one box office star by theater owners in 1939.
After enlisting in the army for two years during World War II, Rooney continued his movie career while he also transitioned into television acting, with a body of work that includes The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey Mulligan in the mid-1950s. The sitcom featured Rooney as a young man who aspired to become a recognized acting sensation, in a setup that could described as the opposite of the actor’s real-life experience (though, there were certainly meta qualities to the show regardless).
Eventually the whirlwind nature of Rooney’s commitment to entertaining the masses and his sky-rocket jump to stardom, coupled with his plunge in box office popularity during the second half of the 20th century, took its toll on his personal life in a bad way. He took to gambling as a hobby for some time, while also going through eight different marriages over the course of his life – though, Rooney never expressed regret about being wed so many times, having said (read: his wives) “I loved every one of them.”
Nonetheless, Rooney kept on amassing even more roles to his name throughout the 1960s and ’70s, in such films as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (with his infamous, but well-meant Mr. Yunioshi character), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Pete’s Dragon, and The Black Stallion (in another Oscar-nominated turn) among several others. He also pressed ahead with supporting roles in small screen fare, with a list of performances that includes roles on The Dick Powell Theatre TV series, the original The Fugitive TV show, The Red Skeleton Hour, and the TV Movie The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Indeed, it was in the 1970s that Rooney started to turn his prospects around, as he gave up drinking, became a born-again Christian, and married Jan Chamberlain, who remained his wife on through to Rooney’s death.
Besides netting yet another Oscar nod for Black Stallion (the fourth in his career), Rooney continued to regain more star-power for his song-and-dance work in the Broadway show Sugar Babies, starting in the late 1970s. A few years later, Rooney was also honored with a special Academy Award, upon nearly 60 years of acting in Hollywood.
During the three decades that followed (on through to the new millennium), Rooney kept on working at a relatively furious rate as a supporting player and voice actor, lending his vocal talents to such nostalgic animated features as The Fox and the Hound, The Care Bears Movie, and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, working on such TV shows as The New Adventures of the Black Stallion, and making small, but noteworthy appearances in family-friendly movies like Night at the Museum and The Muppets in recent years (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).
All in all, Rooney’s professional life and personal experiences were quite the roller coaster ride, yet over his 93 years on this Earth he – quite literally – managed to touch the hearts of millions of people with his brand of good-hearted showbiz. Rooney’s work over the years will undoubtedly continue to resonate with people long after his passing. (For more on his life, you should read the New York Times‘ obituary).
The Screen Rant team would like to express their sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mr. Rooney’s family and loved ones in this difficult time.
R.I.P. Mickey Rooney: September 23rd, 1920 – April 6th, 2014.