NEW YORK — Andy Rooney, the curmudgeonly commentator who spent more than 30 years wryly talking about the oddities of life for “60 Minutes,” died Friday night, CBS said. He was 92.
Just a month ago, Rooney delivered his last regular essay on the CBS newsmagazine.
CBS said he died Friday night in New York from complications from a recent surgery.
Rooney, also a syndicated newspaper columnist, talked about what was in the news. But he was just as likely to use his weekly television essay to discuss the old clothes in his closet, why banks need to have important-sounding names or whether there was a real Mrs. Smith who made Mrs. Smith’s Pies.
He won three Emmy Awards, including one for his story revealing there was no Mrs. Smith.
Rooney began his “60 Minutes” commentaries in 1978 and was still at it three decades later, railing about how unpleasant air travel had become. “Let’s make a statement to the airlines just to get their attention. We’ll pick a week next year and we’ll all agree not to go anywhere for seven days,” he told viewers.
“I obviously have a knack for getting on paper what a lot of people have thought and didn’t realize they thought,” Rooney once said. “And they say, ‘Hey, yeah!’ And they like that.”
In early 2009, as he was about to turn 90, he looked ahead to Barack Obama’s upcoming inauguration with a look at past inaugurations. He told viewers that Calvin Coolidge’s 1925 swearing-in was the first to be broadcast on radio, adding, “That may have been the most interesting thing Coolidge ever did.”
Rooney wrote for CBS stars such as Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore during the 1950s and early 1960s, before settling into a partnership with newsman Harry Reasoner. With Rooney as the writer, they collaborated on several news specials, including an Emmy-winning report on misrepresentations of black Americans in movies and history books. He wrote “An Essay on Doors” in 1964, and continued with contemplations on bridges, chairs and women.
“The best work I ever did,” Rooney said. “But nobody knows I can do it or ever did it. Nobody knows that I’m a writer and producer. They think I’m this guy on television.”
Rooney angrily left CBS in 1970 when it refused to air his heated essay about the Vietnam War. He went on TV for the first time, reading the essay on PBS and winning a Writers Guild of America award for it.
He returned to CBS three years later as a writer and producer of specials. Notable among them was the 1975 “Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington,” whose lighthearted but serious look at government won him a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.
“A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” aired on “60 Minutes” for the first time on July 2, 1978. Rooney complained about people who keep track of how many people die in car accidents on holiday weekends. In fact, he said, the Fourth of July is “one of the safest weekends of the year to be going someplace.”
The segment of Rooney’s musings quickly became a favorite feature of television’s oldest and most successful newsmagazine. Comic Joe Piscopo satirized Rooney’s squeaky voice with the refrain, “Did you ever wonder …”
Rooney’s words occasionally got him in trouble, too. CBS suspended him for three months in 1990 for allegedly racist remarks in an interview, which he denied making. Gay rights groups were mad during the AIDS epidemic when Rooney mentioned homosexual unions in saying “many of the ills which kill us are self-induced.” Indians protested when Rooney suggested that Native Americans who made money from casinos weren’t doing enough to help their own people.
The Associated Press learned the danger of getting on Rooney’s cranky side. In 1996, AP television writer Frazier Moore wrote a column suggesting it was time for Rooney to retire. On Rooney’s next “60 Minutes” appearance, he invited those who disagreed to make their opinions known. The AP switchboard was flooded by some 7,000 phone calls.
“Your piece made me mad,” Rooney told Moore two years later. “One of my major shortcomings — I’m vindictive. I don’t know why that is. Even in petty things in my life I tend to strike back. It’s a lot more pleasurable a sensation than feeling threatened.”
More recently, he was one of television’s few voices to strongly oppose the war in Iraq at the time it began. After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, he said he was chastened by its quick fall but didn’t regret his “60 Minutes” commentaries.
“I’m in a position of feeling secure enough so that I can say what I think is right and if so many people think it’s wrong that I get fired, well, I’ve got enough to eat,” Rooney said at the time.
Andrew Aitken Rooney was born on Jan. 14, 1919, in Albany, N.Y., and worked as a copy boy on the Albany Knickerbocker News while in high school. College at Colgate University was cut short by World War II, where Rooney worked for the GI newspaper Stars and Stripes. With another former Stars and Stripes staffer, Oram C. Hutton, Rooney wrote four books about the war. They included the 1947 book, “Their Conqueror’s Peace: A Report to the American Stockholders,” documenting offenses against the Germans by occupying forces.
Rooney and his wife, Marguerite, had four children and lived in Rowayton, Conn. Daughter Emily Rooney is a former executive producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press