OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney dead at age 93

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2014-04-08T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney dead at age 93By Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Mickey Rooney's nine decades of performance and entertainment spans a larger-than-life story for Hollywood's legendary actor who stood just 5 feet 3 inches tall.

Rooney, who was Hollywood's top box-office draw in the late 1930s to early 1940s, died Sunday at age 93 surrounded by family at his North Hollywood home, with the Los Angeles County Coroner's office confirming his death from natural causes.

As was his tradition, he walked the red carpet to attend last month's Academy Awards ceremony, followed by fun at Vanity Fair's Oscar Party, where he posed for photos with other stars. And the month prior, he was in the front row of the audience of "The Tonight Show" beaming, to wish Jay Leno well for the Wednesday, Feb. 5 taping of the talk show for Leno's second to the last show.

At the time of his death, Rooney had been shooting a new movie, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," co-starring fellow former child star, actress Margaret O'Brien.

"There was nothing he couldn't do: Singing, dancing, performing ... all with great expertise," O'Brien, 77, told the Associated Press.

"I simply can't believe it. He seemed fine through the filming and was as great as ever."

Rooney was nominated for four Academy Awards over a four-decade span and received two special Oscars for film achievements, won an Emmy for his TV movie "Bill" and had a Tony nomination for his Broadway smash "Sugar Babies."

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rooney on a number of occasions, the last being in October 2010 when he was in Chicago. In August 1995, I joined my parents Chester and Peggy to see Rooney perform opposite leggy Juliet Prowse, just a year before her passing at age 59, in "Sugar Babies" in the Crystal Showroom of the Desert Inn Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. In 1999, I interviewed him while in Chicago to appear in the title role of a stage production of "The Wizard of Oz" at Rosemont Theatre. He was also an audience favorite at Drury Lane Theatre Martinique in Evergreen Park, Ill.

His first marriage of eight marriages (which produced a total of 11 children) was to glamorous Ava Gardner in 1942 when she was just 19 and Rooney was 21.

Rooney began as a toddler in his parents' vaudeville act in the 1920s. He was barely six when he first appeared on screen, playing a midget in the 1926 silent comedy short "Not to Be Trusted."

His reprisal of character Andy Hardy in 16 feature films made him famous, as well as lots of money, including what became a legendary pairing of him with pal Judy Garland. Rooney starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor in 1944's horse-racing hit "National Velvet."

In 1978, Rooney, 57, married eighth wife, singer Janice Darlene Chamberlain, 39. Their marriage lasted longer than the first seven combined.

Rooney told me in an interview, that when a movie would one day be made about his life, he believed only one actor could play him.

"Matt Damon is a little bit tall, but he has the right look and attitude," said Rooney, who after starring opposite Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan in the 1938 film "Boys Town," was named "top star in the world."

"Today, these young actors make $25 million for doing one picture. I've never had $25 million at any one time in my entire life. Life is about rolling with the punches. You never know what kind of hand you're going to be dealt."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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