Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule Jr.; September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014) was an American actor, vaudevillian, comedian, producer and radio personality. In a career spanning nine decades and continuing until shortly before his death, he appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era.
At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, Rooney performed the role of Andy Hardy in a series of 15 films in the 1930s and 1940s that epitomized American family values. A versatile performer, he became a celebrated character actor later in his career. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney "the best there has ever been." Clarence Brown, who directed him in two of his earliest dramatic roles, National Velvet and The Human Comedy, said he was "the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with."
Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at the age of six. At 14 he played Puck in the play and later the 1935 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Critic David Thomson hailed his performance as "one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic". In 1938, he co-starred in Boys Town. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar for his leading role in Babes in Arms, and he was awarded a special Academy Juvenile Award in 1939. At the peak of his career between the ages of 15 and 25, he made forty-three films, which made him one of MGM's most consistently successful actors and a favorite of studio head Louis B. Mayer.
Rooney was the top box office attraction from 1939 to 1941, and one of the best-paid actors of that era, but his career never rose to such heights again. Drafted into the Army during World War II, he served nearly two years entertaining over two million troops on stage and radio and was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones. Returning from the war in 1945, he was too old for juvenile roles but too short to be an adult movie star, and was unable to get as many starring roles. Nevertheless, Rooney's popularity was renewed with well-received supporting roles in films such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion (1979). In the early 1980s, he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies and again became a celebrated star. Rooney made hundreds of appearances on TV, including dramas, variety programs, and talk shows, and won an Emmy in 1964, with another Emmy plus a Golden Globe for his role in Bill (1981).
At his death, Vanity Fair called him "the original Hollywood train wreck." He struggled with alcohol and pill addiction and is notable for having married eight times; these factors, along with other traits, indicated a psychopathic personality. His first marriage was to Ava Gardner. Despite earning millions during his career, he had to file for bankruptcy in 1962 due to mismanagement of his finances. Shortly before his death in 2014 at age 93, he alleged mistreatment by some family members and testified before Congress about what he alleged was physical abuse and exploitation by family members. By the end of his life, his millions in earnings had dwindled to an estate that was valued at only $18,000. He died owing medical bills and back taxes, and contributions were solicited from the public.
On April 6, 2014, Rooney died of natural causes in Los Angeles, at the age of 93.
A group of family members and friends, including Mickey Rourke, held a memorial service on April 18. A private funeral, organized by another set of family members, was held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where he was ultimately interred, on April 19. His eight surviving children said in a statement that they were barred from seeing Rooney during his final years.