In a career spanning nearly nine decades and continuing until shortly before his death, he appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era.
Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at age six.
At thirteen he played the role of Puck in the play and later the 1935 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
His acclaimed film performance was hailed by critic David Thomson as “one of cinema’s most arresting pieces of magic.”
In 1938, he co-starred with Spencer Tracy in the Academy Award-winning film, Boys Town. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar for his leading role in Babes in Arms, and he was awarded a special Academy Juvenile Award in 1939.
Rooney was the top box office attraction from 1939 to 1941, but his career never rose to such heights again.
Drafted into the Army during World War II, he served nearly two years entertaining over two million troops on stage and radio and was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones. Returning from the war in 1945, he was too old for juvenile roles but too short to be an adult movie star and he were not able to obtain acting roles as significant as before.
Nevertheless, Rooney was tenacious and he rebounded, his popularity renewed with well-received supporting roles in films such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion (1979), for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
Shortly before his death in 2014 at age 93, he alleged mistreatment by some family members, and testified in Congress about what he alleged was physical abuse and exploitation by family members.
Born on September 23, 1920, after serving in the military during World War II, Rooney took on a variety of roles.
He appeared in such musicals as Summer Holiday (1948) and dramas such as Killer McCoy (1947) and The Big Wheel (1949), but none of these pictures matched his earlier successes on the big screen.
Rooney also appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Rooney’s bucktoothed portrayal of Hepburn’s Japanese neighbour Mr. Yunioshi drew criticism as an offensive racial stereotype.
Later in his career, Rooney said he was playing the role for laughs and never intended to offend audiences.
In 1963, he appeared as the very first guest on “The Judy Garland Show” upon Garland’s insistence.
And he appeared occasionally during the ’60s on comedy/variety shows such as “The Dean Martin Comedy Hour,” “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”
He guessed on “Hollywood Squares” in 13 episodes between 1969 and 1976, and made 15 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from 1970-73.
He is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin, a singer he married in 1978; son Mickey Rooney Jr. from his marriage to singer Betty Jane Rase; son Theodore Michael Rooney from his marriage to actress Martha Vickers; daughters Kelly Ann Rooney, Kerry Rooney and Kimmy Sue Rooney and son Michael Joseph Rooney from his marriage to Barbara Ann Thomason; and daughter Jonelle Rooney and adopted son Jimmy Rooney from his marriage to Carolyn Hockett.