Legendary film actor Mickey Rooney has died at the age of 93 of natural causes. His family was with him when he died at his North Hollywood home on Sunday.
Rooney’s small size – 5’3″ – meant he was often cast as a jockey, and his first was the 1937 film Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry with Judy Garland. They became close friends and a successful song-and-dance team.
In the 1944 film National Velvet, he had top billing as jaded former jockey Mi Taylor opposite 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown, helping her train her horse for the Grand National Steeplechase.
His continued to work throughout the years in various stage and screen roles, making the transition to television. In 1963, Rod Serling specially wrote an episode of The Twilight Zone just for Rooney. In The Last Night of a Jockey he played a jockey involved in a horse doping scam, and he was the only actor in the episode.
In 1979 Rooney took the role of Henry Dailey in The Black Stallion. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
At the age of 70 was offered a starring role in The Family Channel’s The Adventures of the Black Stallion, where he reprised his role as Henry Dailey. The show was an immediate hit and was seen in 70 countries. He was nominated for a Gemini Award for this role.
Other roles set around horses included Lightning, the White Stallion in 1986, and the 2008 film Lost Stallions: The Journey Home, in which he played a wise horseman and ranch owner.
His last two films were The Muppets in 2011 in which he had a cameo, and the documentary film Last Will and Embezzlement in 2012, about the financial abuse of the elderly. A year earlier, Rooney testified before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging about the years of financial abuse he said he suffered at the hands of his step-son, against whom a restraining order was subsequently issued.
He was nominated for three other Academy Awards and received two special Oscars, the Juvenile Award in 1939 and one in 1983 for his body of work.
Born Joseph Yule, Jr in 1920 in Brooklyn, New York, Rooney was one of the most famous child actors in entertainment history, and played the role of Andy Hardy in The Hardy Boys in 20 films. His film career started in 1927, and he was one of the last surviving stars who worked in the silent film era.
Both of Rooney’s parents were in vaudeville, appearing in a Brooklyn production of A Gaiety Girl when Joseph, Jr. was born. He began performing at the age of 17 months as part of his parents’ routine, wearing a specially tailored tuxedo.
In 1944, Rooney enlisted in the US Army, serving more than 21 months. During and after the war he helped entertain the troops in America and Europe, and spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. He also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his military service.
Rooney was married eight times. He married the tall and glamorous Ava Gardner in 1942 but divorced well before she became famous. He had nine children, 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.