Off the screen, the young Rooney was the Justin Bieber of his time. His fame, money, gambling, lust and mercurial nature were problems for the MGM studio, which did not like seeing its young star sully his reputation and box-office potential.

"FOURTEEN FOR 30 YEARS"

The studio assigned a full-time staffer to keep Rooney out of trouble but his antics still frequently ended up in gossip columns. MGM was greatly upset when Rooney, 21, married Ava Gardner, then a 19-year-old aspiring actress, in 1942. The marriage lasted barely a year.

From 1939 to 1941 Rooney had ranked as the top U.S. male box-office attraction. After he returned from serving the military as an entertainer during World War Two, the public was growing weary of seeing him play teenagers and he would have to retool his career.

"I was a 14-year-old boy for 30 years," he once said.

After the rush of stardom, Rooney was battered by a stalled career, drug and gambling addictions, bad marriages, a failed production company and the deep financial problems they caused. He lost his hair and grew paunchy as he aged but he persevered.

"I'm a ham who wants to be a small part of anything," he told the Times.

He took small parts, worked in lesser movies and tried a couple of television shows. He picked up two more Oscar nominations for 1956's "The Bold and the Brave" and "The Black Stallion" in 1979.

In 1979 he also broke through on Broadway, harkening back to his vaudeville beginnings with "Sugar Babies," a burlesque-style revue with MGM tap dancer Ann Miller in which he sang, danced and dressed in drag. He said the role saved him from being "a famous has-been."

"The American public is my family," Rooney said. "I've had fun with them all my life."

Rooney won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1982 for the TV movie "Bill," playing a mentally handicapped man trying to live on his own. He was given an lifetime achievement Oscar in 1983.

In 1978 he found a lasting marriage with country singer Jan Chamberlin. In his late 80s they toured the country with a song-and-dance act.

Rooney, who had five sons and five daughters, told a U.S. Senate committee on aging that he had been emotionally and financially abused by family members. He later said Christopher Aber, Chamberlin's son, had deprived him of food and medicine, prevented him from leaving the house and meddled in his financial affairs.

 -Reuters