Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney, whose CBS career spans the entire post-war history of network news, died Friday as a result of complications following minor surgery, the network announced.

A mainstay of Sunday night viewing for millions of Americans, the 92-year-old Rooney only stepped down from his regular commentary post on "60 Minutes" last month.

Here's the release from CBS News:

Andy Rooney, the 60 MINUTES commentator known to generations for his wry, humorous and contentious television essays – a unique genre he is credited with inventing – died last night (4) in the hospital in New York City of complications following minor surgery. He was 92 and had homes in New York City, Rensselaerville, N.Y. and Rowayton, Conn.

Rooney had announced a few weeks ago in his 1097th essay for 60 MINUTES on Oct. 2 that he would no longer appear regularly on the broadcast.

             “Words cannot adequately express Andy’s contribution to the world of journalism and the impact he made--as a colleague and friend--upon everyone at CBS,” said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corporation. “His wry wit, his unique ability to capture the essence of any issue, and his larger-than-life personality made him an icon, not only within the industry but among readers and viewers around the globe. Andy was not just a member of the CBS family; he was a member of the world's family. We treasure the legacy he has left, and his presence will be sorely missed by those of us at CBS and by his fans around the world.”

             “It’s a sad day at 60 MINUTES and for everybody here at CBS News.  It’s hard to imagine not having Andy around.  He loved his life and he lived it on his own terms. We will miss him very much,” said Jeff Fager, chairman of CBS News and the executive producer of 60 MINUTES.

             Rooney wrote for television since its birth, spending nearly 60 years at CBS, 30 of them behind the camera as a writer and producer, first for entertainment and then news programming, before becoming a household name – a role he said he was never comfortable in. He preferred to be known as a writer and was the author of best-selling books and a national newspaper column, in addition to his 60 MINUTES essays.

But it is his television role as the inquisitive and cranky commentator on 60 MINUTES that made him a cultural icon. For 33 years, Rooney had the last word on the most watched television program in history.  Ratings for the broadcast rose steadily over its time period, peaking at a few minutes before the end of the hour, precisely when he delivered his essays, which could generate thousands of response letters.
 
Each Sunday, Rooney delivered one of his  60 MINUTES essays from behind a desk that he, an expert woodworker, hewed himself. The topics ranged from the contents of that desk’s drawer to whether God existed.  He often weighed in on major news topics, sometimes seriously and often humorously.  In an early 60 MINUTES essay that won him the third of his four Emmy Awards, he reacted to the grain embargo against the Soviet Union by suggesting the U.S. sell them cereal instead. “Are they going to take us seriously as an enemy if they think we eat Cap’n Crunch for breakfast?”

Mainly, his essays struck a cord in viewers by pointing out life’s unspoken truths or more often complaining about its subtle lies, earning him the “curmudgeon” status he wore like a uniform.  “I obviously have a knack for getting on paper what a lot of people have thought and didn’t realize they thought,” Rooney told the Associated Press in 1998. In typical themes, Rooney questioned labels on packages, products that didn’t seem to work and curious human behavior, such as why people don’t talk in elevators.

            Rooney asked thousands of questions in his essays over the years, none, however, began with “Did you ever…?”, a phrase often associated with him.  Comedian Joe Piscopo used it in a 1981 impersonation of him on “Saturday Night Live” and, from then on, it was erroneously linked to Rooney.

            Rooney was also mistakenly connected to racism when a politically charged essay highly insensitive to minorities was written in his style and passed off as his on the internet in 2003. Over the next few years, it found its way into the e-mail boxes of untold thousands, causing Rooney to refute it in a 2005 60 MINUTES essay, and again, as it continued to proliferate, in a Associated Press article a year later.

            Many assumed he wrote the screed because Rooney’s longtime habit of writing or speaking plainly on sensitive topics had often left him open to attacks by activist groups.  The racist essay was one of the many false Rooney quotes and essays bouncing around the internet.  The racism charge angered and hurt Rooney deeply.  He hated racism: As a young soldier in the early 1940s, he had himself arrested in Florida by refusing to leave the seat he had chosen among blacks in the back of an Army bus.

 At the height of the AIDS crisis, Rooney had his biggest run-in with a group and it had dire consequences.  In February 1990, the gay magazine The Advocate interviewed him after he associated the human choices of drugs, tobacco and gay sex with death in a CBS News special, “A Year With Andy Rooney: 1989.” The magazine printed racist remarks attributed to him from the interview, which he vehemently denied making. A torrent of negative publicity followed, after which then-CBS News President David Burke suspended him for three months. The outcry for his return was deafening. Burke reinstated him after only three weeks, saying Rooney was not a man “who holds prejudice in his heart and mind.” The ratings for 60 MINUTES, CBS’ only top-10 hit that season, dropped while Rooney was off the air.

            But the negative publicity and suspension exacted a toll. Rooney said publicly he was “chilled” and admitted the new sensitivity led him to spike a later essay regarding the United Negro College Fund.

            Rooney still spoke his mind, however. Thousands of angry letters arrived when he said Kurt Cobain, the young star of hit rock band “Nirvana,” was essentially a waste of humanity for taking his own life.  Native Americans demanded apologies when he belittled their efforts to stop sports teams from using names like “Braves” in 1995 and again in 1997, when he suggested Indian casino profits be used to support poor tribes.   He reacted to the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in 1995 by offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the real killer – a reward he said he would never have to pay because Simpson committed the murders. His essay in 2004, in which he said God told him that the Rev. Pat Robertson and Mel Gibson were “whackos,” resulted in 20,000 complaints – the most response any 60 MINUTES issue ever drew.

            No group was off limits for Rooney, especially CBS management and his own colleagues. Rooney poked fun at the 60 MINUTES correspondents on a regular basis in his essays, while he questioned CBS management on issues, such as layoffs and strikes, sometimes in his 60 MINUTES essays, but more often in his syndicated newspaper column for Tribune Media Services or in media interviews.  During a Writers Guild of America strike against CBS, Rooney, though not in the union, supported it by not writing any 60 MINUTES pieces until the strike was settled.  He publicly blamed CBS’s troubles of the early 1990s on Chairman Laurence Tisch’s cutbacks, daring Tisch to fire him.