Multiple news outlets reported that Rooney, 93, died on Sunday. He is survived by his eighth wife Jan, and nine children.
But most of all, he leaves behind a colorful Hollywood legacy that spanned 80 years and more than 200 films, including Boys Town and The Black Stallion. Rooney won two honorary Oscars, the first in 1938, the second in 1982. In January 2005, Rooney made headlines for the unlikeliest of reasons when the Fox network rejected a Super Bowl cold remedy commercial — featuring Rooney’s bared bottom — for being inappropriate.
Rooney certainly knew how to put on a show. But of all the characters that Rooney inhabited — from Puck in the 1935 film production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to his Oscar-nominated turn as a preternaturally mature teen in 1943’s The Human Comedy — not one could compete with or begin to overshadow Rooney himself.
Laurence Olivier called Rooney “the greatest actor of them all,” yet he was the unlikeliest of stars. At 5-foot-3, Rooney was short, with pointy, elfin features and a spirited, in-your-face energy more suited to selling cars than starring in films. Yet during the Depression, when jobs were scarce and the national mood grim, audiences loved his joie de vivre and his down-home appeal.
Born Joe Yule, Jr. in a Brooklyn, N.Y., rooming house on Sept. 23, 1920, Rooney made his first stage appearance at 17 months as part of his comic father and dancer mother’s vaudeville performances. Performing, Rooney told BackStage, was ” in my blood. It’s who I am.”