Mickey Rooney dead at 93

Mickey Rooney attends the the Actors Fund's 17th annual Tony Awards viewing party in  2013. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Mickey Rooney attends the the Actors Fund's 17th annual Tony Awards viewing party in 2013. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

The veteran Hollywood entertainer Mickey Rooney, one of the most popular actors in the first half of the 20th century, has died at the age of 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

An MGM star in the 1930s and '40s, Rooney made more than 200 films in a career that lasted nine decades.

[Mickey Rooney at an industry event last month.]

Mickey Rooney at an industry event last month. Photo: Getty Images

At the peak of his career in 1941, Rooney sold more tickets than any other Hollywood star for the third consecutive year ahead of Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Gene Autrey and Bette Davis.

His movies included the hugely popular Andy Hardy series, Captains Courageous (1937), Boys Town (1938), National Velvet (1944), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Black Stallion(1979) and the telemovie Bill (1981).

In recent years, he kept working in such movies as George Miller's Babe: Pig In The City (1998), Night at the Museum (2006) and The Muppets (2011).

A versatile talent who excelled at comedy, drama, singing and dancing - a personification of the cheerful, irrepressible, energetic American boy in his early career - the five-foot, two-inch (157cm) actor was born Joseph Yule jnr in Brooklyn in 1920.

At 18 months, he had made his stage debut dressed in a tiny tuxedo in his family's vaudeville act. He had made his first screen appearance, in the silent short Not To Be Trusted (1926), by the time he was five.

As a teenager he was signed by MGM and became a star, firstly as the young version of a gangster in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and then as Andy Hardy in A Family Affair (1937). He shone as the trouble-prone character in 15 movie and was reputedly earning $US150,000 a year before he was 20.

After entertaining the troops during World War II, Rooney made a difficult transition to adult roles, while broadening into television, stage performances and directing movies.

His awards include a special Juvenile Oscar in 1939 for Boys Town, four nominations for Babes In Arms (1939), The Human Comedy (1943), The Bold and the Brave (1956) and The Black Stallion and an honourary Oscar in 1983 in recognition of his "50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film peformances".

"When I was 19 years old I was the number one star for two years," Rooney said when he accepted that honourary Oscar. "When I was 40, nobody wanted me. I couldn't get a job."

In 1982, he won an Emmy for playing an an intellectually disabled man who finds love in the telemovie Bill.

In an up-and-down personal life, Rooney was married eight times, initially to his MGM co-star Ava Gardner. He married his last wife, singer Jan Chamblin, in 1978 and separated in 2012. 

In 1962, he filed for bankruptcy after losing his money in his divorces and love for horse races and craps games.

In 2011, he accused two of his wife's children of taking his money, denying him medication and withholding food.

At the time of his death, Rooney was living in California and filming The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

"When I open a refrigerator door and the light goes on, I want to perform," he once said.

TMZ reported that Rooney died after being "in ill health for quite some time".

SMH.COM.AU  with New York Times

Mickey Rooney and Ann Rutherford in the 1938 film Out West With the Hardys.

Mickey Rooney and Ann Rutherford in the 1938 film Out West With the Hardys.

In recent years, his roles included George Miller's Babe: Pig In The City, Night at the Museum and The Muppets.

More to come

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