Rooney began his life in showbiz almost immediately — his parents were vaudeville performers, and Rooney first appeared with them on stage before his second birthday. He made his screen debut at seven, starring in a series of shorts based upon the Mickey McGuire comic strip. However, it was the Andy Hardy films that catapulted Rooney to the big time; playing the title character, a mildly mischievous teenager with a stern-but-loving father, Rooney was one of the biggest box office draws of the late 1930s and early 1940s (along with fellow child superstar Judy Garland, who appeared in several Andy Hardy films herself). In 1939, Rooney won a special Academy Juvenile Award for the role.
Rooney enlisted in the Army in 1944, serving at the end of World War II. While he would never again be the huge draw of his early career, Rooney branched out, taking smaller parts in a variety of genres. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the 1956 war drama The Bold and the Brave, and made a number of appearances on television and on stage. Unfortunately, Rooney’s performance as Mr. Yunioshi, Audrey Hepburn’s goofy Asian neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, became a flashpoint for criticism of Hollywood’s use of stereotyped Asian characters. (Rooney later defended his performance, but also said that had he known the part would have cause such offense, he would have turned it down.)
In 1979, Rooney was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as a horse trainer in The Black Stallion. He continued to work well into his 90s, making appearances in such high-profile Hollywood films as Night at the Museum and The Muppets. He is survived by five sons and five daughters.