A distinctive voice — and character — in television news has died, according to CBS. Andy Rooney was a signature essayist on the CBS news program 60 Minutes for decades. He was 92.
CBS said Rooney died Friday night in New York of complications from a recent surgery. Just a month ago, he delivered his last regular essay on the CBS newsmagazine.
Rooney was one of the most famous curmudgeons in American public life. And not just on TV: He typically refused to sign autographs or return letters from fans.
His now famous gig with CBS’s 60 Minutes started on July 2, 1978. It was initially called “Three Minutes or So With Andy Rooney.” On it, he quipped about everyday subjects, like warnings over the perils of driving during the Independence Day holiday:
“We were curious about the car death figures and … the total picture of our demise in America. It turns out that the Fourth of July is really a very safe weekend for us,” said Rooney, ever the contrarian.
The segment soon became a distinctive and weekly bookend to the show’s exposes and profiles. It was also a new and defining chapter in Rooney’s career.
Andy Rooney was born and raised in Albany, N.Y., in 1919. He left Colgate University during World War II to become a reporter for the Army publication Stars and Stripes. Rooney told his friend and 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer that he had initially been a reluctant warrior.
“I thought it was wrong to go into any war, and I got to the war and saw the Germans and I changed my mind,” he said. “I decided we were right going into World War II.”
Rooney flew with Army Air Force bombers during raids over Germany in 1943 and landed at Normandy just after D-Day. He gained recognition for his crisp writing and bravery under fire. He joined CBS several years after World War II, first as a writer for top entertainment shows, later for news, collaborating with CBS’s Harry Reasoner as a writer and producer.
Rooney contributed his own essays and reported pieces, some of them quite serious about war and fraud and other hard news stories. But in his trademark pieces, he painted in miniature.
In one piece, he remarked on the estimated 1.5 billion people who buy things online.
“It’s one of those figures I doubt — but even if it’s true, the idea of buying something I can’t see or touch just doesn’t interest me at all,” he said.
In another, he remarked on airport security after the September 2001 attacks.
“I hate to say this; I love saying things I hate to say,” he said, “but the airlines are in more trouble than they know because flying simply is not fun anymore.”
Once, he discussed being a sucker for kitchen tools.
“Over the years, I’ve filled our kitchen drawers with gadgets we never use. This seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said, holding up one such gadget. “It’s for grating Parmesan cheese. Well, we buy cheese already grated now.”
At times, he offended viewers, and he was briefly suspended for remarks about gays and blacks. But even his less controversial remarks inspired material for countless comedians.
“He just reminds me of what a great country we live in where a person can watch somebody slowly go insane on television,” comedian Frank Caliendo said during a standup routine on his TBS show.
“You’re probably wondering the same thing I am,” he said, doing an impression of Rooney figuring out the iPhone. “Where’s the long curly cord? Maybe it comes in a separate package — maybe 40 years ago — when I was 75.”
In early October, the real Rooney offered his valedictory essay:
“When I went on television, it was as a writer. I don’t think of myself as a television personality,” he said. “I’m a writer — who reads what he’s written.”
Ever the grouch, he asked viewers to leave him alone in retirement. But he smiled. As Rooney told viewers on that last appearance, he had led a lucky life.