Mickey Rooney died earlier this month, and his passing reminded us all of some of his more impressive achievements. Rooney spent 88 of his 93 years in show business. He played Andy Hardy, starred alongside Judy Garland and other Hollywood luminaries, made countless comebacks and married Ava Gardner. The marriage didn’t last long, and he would be married seven more times before he died.
The last marriage, to Jan Chamberlin, lasted longer than the other seven put together, according to People magazine. The couple married in 1978, but the relationship took a decidedly dark turn over the last few years. Rooney accused Chamberlin of physical abuse, and the two separated. When he died, she had not seen him for a year.
Chamberlin has two sons, and Rooney was apparently close to both of them. He turned his financial affairs over to Christopher and his wife, and, he later testified, they robbed him blind.
In 2011, Rooney appeared at a Congressional hearing on aging and the elderly. Then 90 years old, he told the world that he had been physically and financially abused by his stepson and his stepson’s wife. He described feelings of helplessness, and he said no one would believe him. And his testimony was electrifying.
Soon after the hearing, he freed himself of Christopher and his wife, and his affairs were turned over to a court-appointed conservator. With the conservator’s help, Rooney sued the couple. In 2013, they settled, with Rooney awarded $2.8 million. At the time of his death, he had not received a dime. It is not clear if his estate will pursue the matter.
What is clear was the Rooney did not want family members handling his estate. He appointed his conservator as executor and gave his entire estate — whittled down to just $18,000 — to Christopher’s brother Mark, who had cared for him over the past couple of years.
Rooney’s will left nothing to his eight surviving children; he reasoned that they were all on solid financial ground already. At some point, he and his estranged wife agreed that she would receive his Social Security benefits and some income from his pension. After funeral expenses and other debts are paid, Mark may not end up with much at all.
That was not the point of the bequest, though. It looks to outsiders that Rooney was honoring Mark with the gift. Rooney was grateful that Mark had helped him through a difficult time and made his last years comfortable.
Rooney was a survivor of elder abuse, and his coming forward shed light on a problem that experts say costs the elderly billions of dollars every year. We wonder how many lives he changed when he sat down that day in 2011 and took the microphone.
CNBC, “The ‘double life’ of Mickey Rooney,” Ed Gjertsen II, April 10, 2014
ABC News, “Rooney’s Estate Goes to Stepson Who Was Caretaker,” Anthony Mccartney (Associated Press), April 8, 2014