The Inimitable Mickey Rooney Dies At 93

  • Mickey Rooney portrayed Oliver Nugent in the short-lived television series One of the Boys in 1982. Rooney died Sunday at the age of 93.
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    Mickey Rooney portrayed Oliver Nugent in the short-lived television series One of the Boys in 1982. Rooney died Sunday at the age of 93.
    NBC via Getty Images
  • Rooney made his stage debut at 17 months and landed his first Hollywood role at the tender age of 6.
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    Rooney made his stage debut at 17 months and landed his first Hollywood role at the tender age of 6.
    AP
  • Rooney and Judy Garland look over the program at the Ice Follies. The two starred together on screen and developed a friendship.
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    Rooney and Judy Garland look over the program at the Ice Follies. The two starred together on screen and developed a friendship.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Rooney plants his hands into the cement next to his footprint and signature in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre during induction ceremonies in Hollywood in 1938.
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    Rooney plants his hands into the cement next to his footprint and signature in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre during induction ceremonies in Hollywood in 1938.
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  • Rooney and his first wife, actress Ava Gardner, are photographed shortly before their wedding in 1942. "He married a lot of grown women," author Arthur Marx said, "and it was hard to see him as a teenager when he was married to someone like Ava Gardner."
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    Rooney and his first wife, actress Ava Gardner, are photographed shortly before their wedding in 1942. "He married a lot of grown women," author Arthur Marx said, "and it was hard to see him as a teenager when he was married to someone like Ava Gardner."
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • Rooney performs a dance routine during rehearsal for the television movie Mr. Broadway in 1957. While Rooney grew older, he never grew taller, which prevented him from being cast as a leading man. Facing mounting financial problems, he took a number of smaller parts during the 1950s and '60s.
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    Rooney performs a dance routine during rehearsal for the television movie Mr. Broadway in 1957. While Rooney grew older, he never grew taller, which prevented him from being cast as a leading man. Facing mounting financial problems, he took a number of smaller parts during the 1950s and '60s.
    AP
  • Garland and Rooney read over a television script for Garland's variety show in 1963. It was their first onstage reunion in 18 years. Their last appearance together was in Ziegfeld Follies in 1945.
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    Garland and Rooney read over a television script for Garland's variety show in 1963. It was their first onstage reunion in 18 years. Their last appearance together was in Ziegfeld Follies in 1945.
    AP
  • Rooney gets a hug from entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. during intermission of Rooney's Broadway musical comedy revue Sugar Babies in 1981.
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    Rooney gets a hug from entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. during intermission of Rooney's Broadway musical comedy revue Sugar Babies in 1981.
    Nancy Kaye/AP
  • Rooney poses with his Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 55th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles in 1983. Rooney was honored for his 60 years of contribution to the motion picture industry.
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    Rooney poses with his Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 55th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles in 1983. Rooney was honored for his 60 years of contribution to the motion picture industry.
    AP
  • Rooney joins cast members Dirk Lumbard (left), Eartha Kitt and Caroline McMahon during the opening performance curtain call for The Wizard of Oz in 1998, at New York's Madison Square Garden. Rooney played the lead role in the stage production.
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    Rooney joins cast members Dirk Lumbard (left), Eartha Kitt and Caroline McMahon during the opening performance curtain call for The Wizard of Oz in 1998, at New York's Madison Square Garden. Rooney played the lead role in the stage production.
    Richard Drew/AP
  • Jan and Mickey Rooney pose for photographs after unveiling their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 2004.
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    Jan and Mickey Rooney pose for photographs after unveiling their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles in 2004.
    Ann Johansson/AP
  • Rooney arrives at a Senate hearing on elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation on Capitol Hill in 2011.
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    Rooney arrives at a Senate hearing on elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation on Capitol Hill in 2011.
    Jim Young/Reuters/Landov
  • Rooney attends The Last 70mm Film Festival, in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2012.
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    Rooney attends The Last 70mm Film Festival, in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2012.
    Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

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Mickey Rooney was a 5-foot-3 dynamo. Whether he was acting, singing or dancing, he poured an uncanny energy into his performances. It's an energy that sustained a lifelong career alongside some of the biggest names in show business, including Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor.

He died Sunday at his North Hollywood home, at age 93. He was still working — on a new film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

From 1938 to 1941, he ranked as Hollywood's top-grossing star. His inimitable on-screen persona earned him major parts in a variety of films, from the lighthearted Babes in Arms to more dramatic fare like Boys Town.

Rooney's success ebbed and flowed over the course of his long life. His tenacity — at times propelled by financial need — helped him bounce back from lengthy career lulls.

Rooney got his start in showbiz earlier than most. Born in the proverbial trunk in 1920 to vaudevillians Joe and Nell Yule, Joe Jr., as he was christened, made his stage debut at 17 months and landed his first Hollywood role at the tender age of 6.

In 1932, the entertainer changed his name to the zingier Mickey Rooney. Two years later, he signed a contract with MGM, a partnership that produced some of Rooney's most memorable roles.

Mickey Rooney starred with Judy Garland in the 1943 movie musical Girl Crazy. The duo's onscreen chemistry reflected their off-screen friendship. i i

hide captionMickey Rooney starred with Judy Garland in the 1943 movie musical Girl Crazy. The duo's onscreen chemistry reflected their off-screen friendship.

AP
Mickey Rooney starred with Judy Garland in the 1943 movie musical Girl Crazy. The duo's onscreen chemistry reflected their off-screen friendship.

Mickey Rooney starred with Judy Garland in the 1943 movie musical Girl Crazy. The duo's onscreen chemistry reflected their off-screen friendship.

AP

In the Andy Hardy series, Rooney played the title role: a teen growing up in an all-American family. The series showcased his youthful, wholesome appeal and catapulted him into stardom. He starred in 16 Andy Hardy pictures altogether.

During that same period, MGM dreamed up another teen franchise starring Rooney and the young Judy Garland as a plucky song-and-dance act.

The plots were often identical. Rooney's character usually had eureka moments that sounded like this one: "I'm gonna write a show for us and put it on right here in Seaport! Why, it'll be the most up-to-date thing these hicks around here have ever seen!"

The formula worked in part because of Garland and Rooney's palpable chemistry, a reflection of their off-screen friendship.

Rooney's early performances won him an honorary Oscar for his sunny portrayals of youth.

Arthur Marx, who wrote an unauthorized biography of Rooney in the 1980s, said Rooney's need for attention made it especially difficult when his career took a downturn in the mid-1940s. Rooney began a decadeslong series of failed marriages, starting with the sexy starlet Ava Gardner.

"He married a lot of grown women," Marx said, "and it was hard to see him as a teenager when he was married to someone like Ava Gardner."

While Rooney grew older, he never grew taller, which prevented him from being cast as a leading man. Facing mounting financial problems, he took a number of smaller parts during the 1950s and '60s.

Eventually Rooney overcame years of gambling and alcohol abuse through a newfound devotion to Christianity and the marriage to his eighth and final wife, Jan Chamberlain, in 1978.

A year later, Rooney got the second big break of his career, in Sugar Babies, a collection of Burlesque comedy sketches set to music. The material was an easy fit for old vaudevillians Rooney and co-star Ann Miller.

In the wake of his success with Sugar Babies, Rooney seized the opportunity to do some higher-profile work. He won a Golden Globe for his performance in the made-for-TV-movie Bill, in which he played a mentally disabled adult. In 1983, Rooney, who by then had more than 200 films under his belt, was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement.

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