Rooney was still working up until a month ago when he filmed scenes for a role in Ben Stiller’s “Night at the Museum 3.”
He was at home when he died, according to his daughter-in-law Charlene Rooney.
Rooney was one of the last living links between an era when the Vaudeville stage was dominant through the advent of silent motion pictures and later talkies. He was one of the last surviving Hollywood actors who starred in a silent movie.
He was born in 1920 and made his debut as a toddler in 1922 in a Vaudeville act. He’s probably best known for his many films as “Andy Hardy” in the 1930s and ’40s.
After his parents, both Vaudeville actors, separated, he moved to Hollywood with his mother. While doing odd jobs, he enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School where he met Joseph A. Wapner, Nanette Fabray, Judy Garland, Lana Turner and other soon-to-be-famous stars.
He graduated from Hollywood High School in 1938. A year earlier he starred in his first “Andy Hardy” film, “A Family Affair.” The movie was an unexpected success and Rooney would go on to star in 13 more Andy Hardy films through 1946.
The same year he was paired with Judy Garland in “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry.” Garland and Rooney became a song-and-dance sensation and starred together in several other films. They remained life-long friends.
He also starred in another horse picture, “National Velvet,” opposite a young Elizabeth Taylor. The film is considered a Hollywood classic.
By the end of the ’30s Rooney was a major star.
He quit acting in 1944 to join the service and spent 21 months in the Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star for valor for entertaining troops in combat zones.
After the war, the nation had changed character and was anxious to leave the Depression-era behind. Rooney’s career began to go into decline. Although he stayed active and appeared in films and television roles until his death.
Some of his more memorable post-war roles came in such films as “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” in 1955, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” in 1962, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 1963 and “The Black Stallion” in 1979.
In all, he was nominated for four Academy Awards and received two honorary Academy Awards. The nominations came for roles in “Babes in Arms in 1939, “The Human Comedy” in 1943 and “The Bold and the Brave” in 1956. He also received a nomination for “The Black Stallion.”
His personal life was the stuff of Hollywood legend. He was married eight times over his lifetime.
His first wife was the legendary movie star Ava Gardner in 1942. He married his last wife, Jan Chamberlin in 1978; they separated last year.
Despite working continuously, Rooney’s personal life and finances remained a mess. At one point, he was forced to file for bankruptcy and in 2011, he testified before Congress that he was a victim of elder abuse at the hands of a relative.
Like his early character Andy Hardy, however, Rooney was indefatigable. He uplifted the nation through his film roles at a time when so many faced hardships brought on by the Depression.
In one legendary encounter, recounted by The Los Angeles Times, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, reportedly fed up with some of Rooney’s off-screen antics, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yelled “You’re Andy Hardy! You’re America!”
Indeed, he was.