Andy Rooney, Former ’60 Minutes’ Commentator, Dead at 92


andy-rooneyAndy Rooney was America’s bemused uncle, spouting homespun wisdom weekly at the end of “60 Minutes,” a soupcon of topical relief after the news magazine’s harder-hitting segments.

Peering at viewers through bushy eyebrows across his desk, Mr. Rooney might start out, seemingly at random, “Did you ever notice that…” and he was off, riffing on pencils, pies, parking places, whatever. Then he was done, slightly cranky revelations delivered in a neat three-minute package.

Mr. Rooney, who died Friday night at age 92, was a reporter and writer-producer for television for decades before landing in 1978 on “60 Minutes.” To his consternation, the show made him into a celebrity.

He created over 1,000 of his mini-essays for “60 Minutes”-many inviting viewers to look anew at some mundane object. He once proposed National Wastebasket Day in honor of its inventor.

For an irascible man of so many opinions, it was remarkable that Mr. Rooney offended so few viewers. At one point in 1990, he was suspended for some apparently offhand comments about homosexuality and race. By the time he was reinstated a month later (delivering an ardent apology), ratings at “60 Minutes” had declined by 20%.

A native of Albany, N.Y., Mr. Rooney worked briefly in his teens as a copyboy for the Albany Knickerbocker News. He was drafted into the Army while attending Colgate University, and on the strength of his journalistic experience was assigned to work for the GI newspaper Stars and Stripes.

In one early dispatch, “How It Feels to Bomb Germany,” he wrote about riding in a Flying Fortress nicknamed the Banshee during an Allied assault on the port city of Wilhelmshaven. German fighter planes raked the bomber with machine-gun fire, but the crew got back safely.

“The Banshee had what the crew called ‘a quiet trip,’ ” Mr. Rooney concluded. “I don’t want to go on a noisy one.”

After the war, Mr. Rooney wrote books about being an air gunner, a history of Stars and Stripes, and in one of his strongest journalistic reports, an account of U.S. occupying forces in Germany that criticized American servicemen for abusing German citizens.

After struggling to make ends meet as a freelancer, Mr. Rooney took a job writing for Arthur Godfrey’s radio and television shows on CBS, and later wrote for the whole stable of CBS stars, including Garry Moore and Victor Borge.

In the 1960s, he wrote and produced TV news specials and topical essays, often narrated by CBS newsman Harry Reasoner. Mr. Rooney left in protest in 1970 when the network refused to broadcast his “Essay on War,” moving briefly to Public Broadcasting Service and ABC. He returned to CBS and began narrating his own quirky news specials, including “Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington,” which focused on things like the number of buildings the government owns and the fare at the congressional dining room.

Mr. Rooney had occasionally contributed to “60 Minutes” when in 1978 he was called on by the show’s executive producer, Don Hewitt, to be a temporary replacement for a segment called “Point Counterpoint.” One of his first segments saw him visit Pottstown, Pa., home of Mrs. Smith’s Pies. He discovered there was no Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Rooney hunkered down for what turned out to be a 33-year run at “60 Minutes.” In addition to his weekly TV spot, he wrote a syndicated newspaper column and collected his columns and scripts in best-selling books.

{The Wall Street Journal/ Newscenter}



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