Monday, 7 April 2014

Mickey Rooney: Hollywood legend dies aged 93

Mickey Rooney, whose career in show business spanned an incredible ten decades, has died at his home in Hollywood. The actor, who was 93, never retired and had been an active showman since the age of 2.

Rooney was born Joseph Yule Jr in 1920. Legend has it he crawled onto the stage during his family's vaudeville act, and was "introduced" to the audience there and then. The stage (and later the screen) was where he stayed, a place he described as being like "the womb" to him.

The first half of his stage name came from the 78 comedy shorts Rooney starred in as Mickey McGuire between 1927 and 1936 – he even legally changed his name to Mickey McGuire for a short time to (unsuccessfully) try and stave off a law suit from the owners of the comic strip on which the films were based. He was always Mickey from then on, although he wasn't allowed to keep on using McGuire. His mother suggested he become Mickey Looney instead, but he altered it to Rooney, feeling that it might be slightly more respectable.

His next long-running franchise was as the plucky Andy Hardy, in 14 films beginning with A Family Affair (1937) and ending with Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958). MGM also used the series to launch the careers of the likes of Lana Turner and Esther Williams, and three of the films co-starred Judy Garland, with whom Rooney had a long partnership as a song-and-dance double act. They made more than two dozen films together, including the Busby Berkeley musical Babes In Arms (1939) – for which Rooney won his first Oscar nomination, aged just 19 – and Girl Crazy (1943).

Rooney also proved he could play serious roles, starring opposite Spencer Tracy in Boys Town (1938) and earning another Academy Award® nomination for the drama The Human Comedy (1943). He was the top US box office draw from 1939 to 1941, but in contrast to his wholesome screen image was something of a hellraiser. An enthusiastic gambler and womaniser, he was assigned a full-time staffer by his studio MGM to – not very successfully – keep him out of trouble.

After WWII, in which he served in the US Military as an entertainer (awarded the Victory Medal for his efforts), he rebooted his career as a character actor: a necessary move having, in his own words, "played a 14 year old boy for 30 years". Despite the international triumph of National Velvet (1944) alongside Elizabeth Taylor, this phase of Rooney's career was marred by poor decisions, failed marriages, financial problems and drug and gambling issues, he still racked up another Oscar nomination for The Bold And The Brave in 1956.

He also made short-lived stints on television (including in 39 episodes of his own Blake Edwards produced show), directed the over-reaching The Private Lives Of Adam And Eve (1960), and had notable supporting roles in the likes of Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962), It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) in which he infamously played Holly Golightly's Chinese upstairs neighbour.

By 1965, Mickey Rooney's 200 films had earned more than $3bn (£1.8bn).

Sir Laurence Olivier once referred to him as the greatest film actor America ever produced.

On TV there were episodes of The Dick Powell Theatre, The Love Boat, The Fugitive, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, The Twilight Zone, The Golden Girls and The Simpsons, among many, many others. He also had successes on Broadway, in the likes of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Will Rogers Follies. In 1979 he garnered yet another Oscar nomination for The Black Stallion, and reprised his role, aged 70, in the Family Channel TV series that ran from 1990 until 1993. The Oscars he actually won were a Juvenile Award in 1938, and a Lifetime Achievement in 1983. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1982 for the TV movie Bill, in which he played a mentally handicapped man struggling to live alone.

In more recent years he enjoyed three consecutive seasons in pantomime in the UK, and showed up in Night At The Museum (2006) and The Muppets (2011). His final screen role was in The Woods (2012), but, true to his motto "never retire but inspire", he had at least three projects – including The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde and Night At The Museum 3 – in the works at the time of his death.

He is survived by his ninth wife Jan Chamberlain, 9 children and 19 grandchildren.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.

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