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ANDY ROONEY, 1919 - 2011

Acerbic essayist on '60 Minutes'

His end-of-show essays turned him into a reluctant celebrity. TV Guide called him 'America's favorite grump.' He retired in October 2011 after 33 years on the show.

November 06, 2011|Dennis McLellan
  • Andy Rooney, for 33 years the curious, curmudgeonly, end-of-show essayist on CBS's award-winning TV newsmagazine "60 Minutes," poses in his New York office in 1983.
Andy Rooney, for 33 years the curious, curmudgeonly, end-of-show essayist… (Marty Lederhandler, AP )

Andy Rooney, CBS News' longtime resident curmudgeon whose whimsical and acerbic essays on "60 Minutes" turned the rumpled writer into an unlikely -- and reluctant -- TV celebrity, died Friday night, only weeks after retiring from the show. He was 92.

CBS announced the death of Rooney, who launched his long career during World War II as a correspondent for the Stars and Stripes military newspaper and continued to be a fixture on "60 Minutes" for 33 years.

He died at a New York City hospital of complications following minor surgery, according to CBS.

For millions of Americans, Rooney was a welcome visitor into their homes on Sunday evenings, an old familiar face appearing for a few minutes at the tail end of one of the most highly rated programs in television history.

Viewers of the award-winning TV newsmagazine who saw him as a friend, neighbor or relative knew what to expect from the man who offered his opinions on a broad array of topics.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, November 08, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Andy Rooney: The news obituary of TV commentator Andy Rooney in the Nov. 6 Section A referred to a Rooney quote in USA Today saying "Retire? From what? Life?" in January. Rooney said that in January 2010.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, November 13, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Andy Rooney: The obituary of TV commentator Andy Rooney in the Nov. 6 Section A said that Rooney was asked by a USA Today reporter in January about retiring and replied: "Retire? From what? Life?" Rooney made the comment in January 2010.

Wry. Curmudgeonly. Whimsical. An articulate Everyman. Unruffled yet quizzical. A crank. A complainer. The man of a thousand questions.

Those are just some of the words journalists have used to describe the man TV Guide called "America's favorite grump."

Seated behind his desk in his small, cluttered office at CBS in New York, Rooney spoke into the camera as though the viewer at home had just dropped in for a brief visit to see what was on his mind that week.

There was always something.

Designer jeans: "The facts of the advertising greatly exceed the fact of the average American posterior."

Bank names: "Trust is a word banks like in their names. There are certain names they'd never use, 'Bankorama,' for instance."

Baseball: "My own time is passing fast enough without some national game to help it along."

But Rooney didn't just spend his few minutes on seemingly trivial matters. In 2003, for example, he turned his attention to the French for failing to support the war in Iraq.

"You can't beat the French when it comes to food, fashion, wine or perfume, but they lost their license to have an opinion on world affairs years ago," he said. "The French lost World War II to the Germans in about 20 minutes."

With Rooney, as his "60 Minutes" colleague Mike Wallace once said, "What you see is what you get."

"I have never, never come across a man I admire more, respect more," Wallace said during a discussion of journalism in World War II at the Smithsonian Institution in 2004.

"He's loyal, he's honorable. He's got the guts to say what is on his mind. And, thank God, we've had the opportunity to let millions of Americans see him every Sunday night for the last couple of decades," Wallace said.

An award-winning writer and producer of CBS News TV specials narrated by Harry Reasoner in the 1960s -- "A Birdseye View of America" and "An Essay on Bridges," among them -- Rooney began appearing on camera himself as the writer-producer of a series of specials in the '70s.

"Mr. Rooney Goes to Dinner," in which he explored the $11-billion restaurant business by visiting restaurants across America, was one. (If a restaurant menu has a tassel on it, Rooney told viewers, "add $2 to the bill." And forget restaurants advertising home cooking. "If I want home cooking," he said, "I'll stay home.")

The "rumpled pragmatist with a dry wit and a salty, acerbic style" -- as former Times television critic Cecil Smith described Rooney -- first appeared on "60 Minutes" in 1978 as the summer replacement for "Point Counterpoint," the brief, end-of-the-show segment featuring liberal Shana Alexander and conservative James J. Kilpatrick.

That fall, Rooney began alternating weeks with the two verbally sparring journalists, winning an Emmy for his essay titled "Who Owns What in America," in which he visited Mrs. Smith's Pies in Pottstown, Pa. and found that Mrs. Smith did not exist.

When the 1979-80 TV season started, Alexander and Kilpatrick were gone and "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney" was well on its way to becoming a "60 Minutes" institution.

For his part, Rooney preferred being known simply as a "writer." And he was not enamored of the celebrity that came with appearing on television each week.

"A writer should be sitting over in the corner watching the dance and not be out there dancing," he told the Saturday Evening Post in 1984. "I'm not too keen about my recent well-known-ness; I don't handle it very well. If somebody comes up to me on the street and says, 'Hey, I like your stuff,' well, I can't hate that. But it never stops there. Pretty soon he wants to be my best friend. I tend to be rude to people like that."

As for autograph seekers, Rooney refused to scrawl his name when a fan stopped him. At one point, whenever asked for an autograph, he would take the proffered piece of paper and write, "No."

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