Mickey Rooney, a celebrated child actor who embodied the All-American boy in the “Andy Hardy” films of the 1930s and ’40s and became one of the era’s top box-office draws, has died. He was 93.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed on Sunday night the death of Rooney, whose roller-coaster show-business career was marked by an often-turbulent personal life. No other details were immediately available.
Rooney’s daughter-in-law Charlene Rooney said the actor died of natural causes Sunday afternoon at the home he shared with her and her husband, Mark Rooney. She said he had recently flown to Vancouver, Canada, where he worked on the upcoming film “Night at the Museum 3.”
One of the most enduring performers in show business, he made his debut on the vaudeville stage in 1922 as a toddler and toured into his late 80s in a two-person stage show with Jan Chamberlin, his eighth wife. They were married in 1978 and later separated.
Jokes about his propensity to walk down the aisle were once a staple of pop culture. Even Rooney told them. “My marriage license reads, ‘To whom it may concern,’” he chortled to The Times in 1981. The first and most famous of his wives was actress Ava Gardner, whom he married in 1942.
When the 90-year-old Rooney testified before Congress in 2011 about elder abuse, the actor said he spoke from personal experience. A family member who took and misused Rooney’s money had left him powerless, he said.
“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” Rooney told a Senate committee. “When a man feels helpless, it’s terrible.”
Rooney did not identify the person during his testimony, but the previous month he had obtained a restraining order against his stepson Chris Aber. He accused him of withholding food and medicine and trying to gain control of his assets.
A settlement was reached when Aber and his wife, who both denied wrongdoing, agreed to abide by the stay-away order without it being enforced by a judge.
“If elder abuse happened to me, Mickey Rooney,” the actor testified, “it can happen to anyone.”
In 1982, Rooney earned an Emmy Award for playing the title character in a drama, “Bill,” about a mentally challenged man living on his own for the first time. Many critics considered it his best performance.
During his initial burst of fame, Rooney broke through as a dramatic actor playing the young tough in the 1938 film “Boys Town” and starring with Judy Garland in a series of popular musicals that included 1939’s “Babes in Arms,” which brought him the first of four Oscar nominations.
Between 1937 and 1946, Rooney portrayed the relentlessly positive Andy Hardy in 15 MGM feature films that presented an idealized portrait of American family life. They were among the most popular movie series of all time, according to film critic Leonard Maltin.
A story the late director Billy Wilder often told illustrates how important Rooney was to MGM. Wilder witnessed studio chief Louis B. Mayer — who was unhappy with Rooney’s off-screen antics — grab the teenage star by the lapels and yell, “You’re Andy Hardy! You’re America!”
In the early 1940s, Rooney earned a second Academy Award nomination as a teenager who comes of age during wartime in “The Human Comedy” and appeared opposite an adolescent Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet,” now considered a classic.
When such leading actors of his generation as Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn were asked who was the best actor in Hollywood, they both immediately named Rooney, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne recalled while interviewing author Gore Vidal, who said the same.