Today is the 98th birthday of Andy Rooney. He was America’s questioning, mockingly grumpy grandfather. His work in journalism and television have influenced generations and continues to be the benchmark that some could only hope to achieve. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Andy Rooney
OCCUPATION: News Anchor, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: January 14, 1919
DEATH DATE: November 4, 2011
EDUCATION: Colgate University, Albany Academy
PLACE OF BIRTH: Albany, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York
FULL NAME: Andrew Aitken Rooney
Writer, correspondent and producer Andy Rooney was born January 14, 1919, in Albany, New York, as Andrew Aitken Rooney, the son of Walter Scott Rooney and Ellinor Reynolds Rooney. Rooney attended the Albany Academy, an independent college-preparatory day school, and later Colgate University in upstate New York. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941, and began writing for the Stars and Stripes in London a year later. In 1943, he was one of seven correspondents who flew on the second American bombing raid over Germany, and later was one of the first American journalists to visit and write about the German concentration camps. Later, Rooney would comment on how the war had a profound effect on shaping his experience as a writer and reporter.
Andy Rooney joined CBS (the Columbia Broadcasting System) in 1949 as a writer for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, which was a hit on radio and television, reaching No. 1 in the television ratings in 1952. From 1959 to 1965, he wrote for The Garry Moore Show, which also became a hit TV program for CBS. During this time Rooney began focusing more on serious writing, penning pieces for CBS News public affairs programs such as The 20th Century. In 1968, he joined the staff of the new CBS current affairs program 60 Minutes, working as a producer for Harry Reasoner during the show’s first few seasons. He also wrote two CBS News specials that year as part of the series Of Black America. One of them, the segment “Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed,” won him his first Emmy Award. It was during this time that Rooney also won his third Writers Guild Award, for his work on the news special “An Essay on War.” But CBS was not pleased with the controversial, morally questioning piece, and Rooney resigned from CBS when the network refused to air the special. The program was later broadcast on PBS’s The Great American Dream Machine, and Rooney headed to ABC, teaming up with Harry Reasoner to create an award-winning series of television essays.
Rooney returned to CBS in 1972, again working for 60 Minutes. He also wrote, produced and narrated a series of broadcasts for CBS News on various aspects of America and American life, including “Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington,” for which he won a Peabody Award in 1975. In 1978, Rooney would become a Sunday night TV staple when he put together a segment for the conclusion of 60 Minutes, entitled “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney.” In Rooney’s short commentary, the writer sat behind a walnut desk, which he built himself, and offered a satirical (some might say “grumpy”; others would say “blunt”) view of trivial, everyday themes ranging from umbrellas and current events to shoelaces and salad dressing. The short clips aired each week as a summer replacement for the debate segment “Point/Counterpoint” featuring Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick, but the segment became a hit with viewers, and replaced “Point/Counterpoint” the end of the 1978–1979 season. Rooney’s unique essays also won him Emmy Awards in 1979, 1981 and 1982. With his beetled brow, sour humor and curmudgeonly outlook on life, Rooney’s 60 Minutes essays became a Sunday-night ritual for many Americans.
Yet Rooney’s career has not been without controversy. In 1990, he was suspended for three months after remarking that too much alcohol, food, drugs, cigarettes and homosexual unions lead to a premature death. He was reinstated just four weeks later, after 60 Minutes’ ratings had fallen 20 percent. Rooney has also been accused of making racist remarks. He commented that he thought it was “silly” for Native Americans to complain about team mascot names like the Washington Redskins because they’re angry their country was taken away from them. He also commented on how names like Rodriguez are more common among baseball stars today than more familiar names, like Ruth and Gehrig. However, in the 1940s, he was arrested for sitting in the back of a segregated bus in protest, and in 2008 he applauded the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States “simply because [American citizens] thought he was the best choice.”
Rooney continues to appear each week on 60 Minutes and, in 2003, he snagged an Emmy award for Lifetime Acheivement. He also writes a regular column for Tribune Media Services that runs in more than 200 papers country-wide.
In 2004, Andy Rooney’s wife of 62 years, Marguerite “Margie” Rooney, died of heart failure. Rooney grieved deeply at the loss of his wife. Since her passing, he has not written about her, saying that to write her name is just too painful. He has four children: Brian, 58, is an ABC News West Coast correspondent; Emily, 59, hosts a public television talk show in Boston; Emily’s twin, Martha, works at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland; and Ellen, 62, is a photographer in London. Rooney also enjoys two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He has written, “It seems to me that grandfathers are a lot younger than they used to be before I got to be one.”
Rooney retired from his weekly commentary work on 60 Minutes in October 2011. He announced his plans to produce only occasional pieces for the show after he completed his 1,097th essay for the news program.
A month later, on November 4, 2011, after suffering health complications from a minor surgery at a New York hospital, Rooney died. He was 92 years old.