Even though it might feel like movies have been around forever, they’re actually relatively young. Movies as we know them today, with sound and dialogue, first made their impact in Hollywood in 1927. It’s probably not a coincidence that Mickey Rooney’s first film was made in 1926, as the beloved actor was synonymous with the silver screen for his entire life.
Mickey Rooney died Sunday night, after using almost every one of his 93 years to entertain. Here are six reasons Mickey Rooney was a movie legend:
1. He was the first child star
In many ways, Rooney was the first child movie star. His first film role was in 1926, when he was only 6 years old, and he didn’t look back after that, signing a contract with MGM and starring in the incredibly popular Andy Hardy series (think a Young Adult movie franchise before there were Young Adult books). Rooney endeared himself to people of all ages as a young actor, and his Hardy movies earned $75 million at the box office — not too shabby during the Great Depression.
2. He had an incredible eight-year span
Rooney had one of the most incredible runs in movie history between 1936 and 1944, making more than three dozen movies, many of them huge hits. The young actor transitioned from child star to bona fide movie star, earning the first of two special Academy Awards in 1939 for “bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.” He was 19 years old, and, yes, he was that good.
3. He did his part in World War II
When the U.S. entered World War II, many from the entertainment industry tried to do their part, and Rooney was among them. He enlisted in 1944, and both during and after his service, helped entertain the troops, earning the Bronze Star Medal for his work.
4. He dominated every genre
There was nothing Rooney couldn’t do as an actor. While many child stars find it difficult to transition to serious acting, Rooney became a respected character actor, earning four Oscar nominations throughout his career, and steadily working for almost all of his 93 years. He was in musicals with Judy Garland, dramas with Clark Gable, and performed Shakespeare onstage and onscreen, and he never stopped making people laugh.
5. He had a personal life of glitz and glamour
Rooney might have personified youth and innocence onscreen, but his life offscreen was filled with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He earned $12 million before he was 40, which was an almost incomprehensible amount back then. He also attracted some of the biggest Hollywood starlets of the time. His first wife was Ava Gardner, and he marred seven (not a typo) more times after that, separating from his eighth and final wife in 2012. He was a tabloid star before tabloids.
6. He made more than 200 films
Mickey Rooney didn’t know the meaning of the word “retire,” and he worked until his final years. In 93 years (87 of them in movies), Rooney appeared in more than 200 films, and that’s not counting his multiple TV shows and guest-star performances. Young people might remember his small part in “The Simpsons” or 2006’s “Night at the Museum,” as one of the museum’s mysterious caretakers.
Rooney was a comedic genius, an incredible actor and the consummate professional. Movies have been around for a century, and for almost a century, Mickey Rooney was movies. He will be missed, but he will never be forgotten.