LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Actor Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars in the 1930s and 1940s, died Sunday in California, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said. He was 93.
The diminutive 5-foot, 2-inch Rooney began his acting career shortly after his first birthday, appearing on vaudeville stages with his parents. He was born Joseph Yule Jr. on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York.
Rooney worked for another nine decades, spurred in part by financial troubles he blamed on a stepson whom he successfully sued.
He became a star in the 1920s when he began appearing in dozens of shorts based on the popular “Mickey McGuire” comic strip, but he shot into Hollywood’s stratosphere in his next film series, starting in more than a dozen “Andy Hardy” films between 1937 and 1946.
Rooney also starred as half of one of the most famous screen partnerships in film history, teaming with actress Judy Garland in a number of the “Andy Hardy” films. He also starred with her in several Busby Berkeley musicals, including 1940’s “Strike up the Band” and “Babes on Broadway” a year later.
From 1939 through 1941, Rooney was the No. 1 box office draw in the United States.
He earned an Oscar nomination for his role in the World War II film “The Bold and the Brave” in 1956.
Rooney’s personal life generated almost as much talk as his film career. He walked down the aisle eight times. His first wife was starlet Ava Gardner.
Rooney’s financial struggles in his final years came to national attention when he asked a Los Angeles court to appoint a conservator to protect him from his stepson and stepdaughter.
He also took his case to Congress, delivering emotional testimony to a House committee in March 2011 in which he said family members took control of his life, making him “scared, disappointed, yes, and angry.”
Rooney made his audience laugh and cry this month when he implored senators to stop what experts call chronic emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse of elderly Americans by family members and other caregivers.
“For years, I suffered silently. I didn’t want to tell anybody. I couldn’t muster the courage, and you have to have courage,” Rooney told Congress. “I needed help, and I knew I needed it. Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to shut up and be quiet.”
Rooney called on Congress to make elder abuse a specific crime. “I’m asking you to stop this elderly abuse. I mean to stop it. Now. Not tomorrow, not next month but now,” he shouted from the witness table.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Reva Goetz appointed attorney Michael Augustine as Rooney’s permanent conservator that month. Augustine immediately began seeking entertainment gigs for the aging performer, telling CNN that he had to revive his show business career quickly or would die “in very short order.”
“He’s available, he’s marketable, and we’re going to get him working,” Augustine said.
“Mr. Rooney’s parents put him on the vaudeville stage when he was 17 months old,” Augustine said in 2011. “Mr. Rooney has had an 88-year career. If Mr. Rooney were to not work, I think we would be attending Mr. Rooney’s funeral in very short order. It’s part of his fiber. He loves it. He is a showman.”
Another urgent reason to get work for Rooney was that he needed money, Augustine said. Once the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Rooney’s bank accounts were depleted by his 90th birthday, he said.
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