Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes dies

CBS says former 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney has died at age 92.

Former 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney has died at age 92, CBS said Saturday.

A statement on the CBS News website said he died Friday night in a New York hospital of complications following minor surgery.

The four-time Emmy winner had announced his retirement from the television program on Oct. 2 in his 1,097th commentary.

CBS says former 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney died Friday in a New York hospital. (Stephen Chernin/Associated Press)

Rooney delivered his often humourous life lessons and everyday observations from behind his desk at the end of 60 Minutes for more than 30 years, but he had been at CBS for more than 60 years.

Much of that time was spent as a highly successful writer and producer. Despite being on television for years, he thought of himself primarily as a writer and didn't enjoy being recognized by people on the street.

Rooney often told viewers about what was in the news, but he was just as likely to discuss the old clothes in his closet, why air travel had become unpleasant and why banks needed to have important sounding names.

Some likes and dislikes

From Andy Rooney's Aug. 1, 2004 commentary 

"I like fresh-squeezed orange juice, rice with chicken gravy, hard rolls, well-done bacon, rare salmon, Perrier and Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream. I dislike fat-free milk, veal, margarine, Fig Newtons, venison, tapioca pudding and Wonder Bread. We are what we eat."

He won one of his four Emmy Awards for a piece on whether there was a real Mrs. Smith who made Mrs. Smith's Pies. As it turned out, there was no Mrs. Smith.

"I obviously have a knack for getting on paper what a lot of people have thought and didn't realize they thought," Rooney once said. "And they say, 'Hey, yeah!' And they like that."

Rooney's former colleague Bob McKeown, now a co-host of CBC's The Fifth Estate, recalled the various controversies the 60 Minutes commentator got himself into: Rooney was once arrested for refusing to leave the black section of a public bus in the U.S. South, and then was suspended in the 1980s for statements he made about HIV and AIDS.

"He had done an editorial on 60 Minutes about personal responsibility in that context, and a lot of AIDS groups thought he was putting blame on people. And CBS responded by suspending him for three months, which was eventually reduced to three weeks, I think," McKeown said. "But the consequence of it was there was a precipitous decline in the ratings of CBS while he was gone."

Attacked popular misconceptions

Looking for something new to punctuate its weekly broadcast, 60 Minutes aired its first Rooney commentary on July 2, 1978.

He complained about people who keep track of how many people die in car accidents on holiday weekends. In fact, he said, the Fourth of July is "one of the safest weekends of the year to be going someplace."

Andy Rooney poses for a photo in his New York office on Aug. 2, 1978. (Carlos Rene Perez/Associated Press)

More than three decades later, he was railing about how unpleasant air travel had become. "Let's make a statement to the airlines just to get their attention," he said. "We'll pick a week next year and we'll all agree not to go anywhere for seven days."

In early 2009, as he was about to turn 90, Rooney looked ahead to President Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration with a look at past inaugurations. He told viewers that Calvin Coolidge's 1925 swearing-in was the first to be broadcast on radio, adding, "That may have been the most interesting thing Coolidge ever did."

"Words cannot adequately express Andy's contribution to the world of journalism and the impact he made — as a colleague and a friend — upon everybody at CBS," said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO.

Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer, said, "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."

For his final essay, Rooney said that he'd live a life luckier than most.

"I wish I could do this forever. I can't, though," he said.

He said he probably hadn't said anything on 60 Minutes that most of his viewers didn't already know or hadn't thought. "That's what a writer does," he said. "A writer's job is to tell the truth."

True to his occasional crotchety nature, though, he complained about being famous or bothered by fans. His last wish from fans: If you see him in a restaurant, just let him eat his dinner.

Rooney was a freelance writer in 1949 when he encountered CBS radio star Arthur Godfrey in an elevator and — with the bluntness millions of people learned about later — told him his show could use better writing. Godfrey hired him and by 1953, when he moved to TV, Rooney was his only writer.

He wrote for CBS' Garry Moore during the early 1960s before settling into a partnership with Harry Reasoner at CBS News. Given a challenge to write on any topic, he wrote An Essay on Doors in 1964, and continued with contemplations on bridges, chairs and women.

"The best work I ever did," Rooney said. "But nobody knows I can do it or ever did it. Nobody knows that I'm a writer and producer. They think I'm this guy on television."

He became such a part of the culture that comic Joe Piscopo satirized Rooney's squeaky voice with the refrain, "Did you ever wonder ..." Rooney never started any of his essays that way.

For many years, 60 Minutes improbably was the most popular program on television and a dose of Rooney was what people came to expect for a knowing smile on the night before they had to go back to work.

Rooney left CBS in 1970 when it refused to air his angry essay about the Vietnam War. He went on TV for the first time, reading the essay on PBS and winning a Writers Guild of America award for it.

He returned to CBS three years later as a writer and producer of specials. Notable among them was the 1975 Mr. Rooney Goes to Washington, whose lighthearted but serious look at government won him a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.

His words sometimes landed Rooney in hot water. CBS suspended him for three months in 1990 for making racist remarks in an interview, which he denied. Rooney, who was arrested in Florida while in the Army in the 1940s for refusing to leave a seat among blacks on a bus, was hurt deeply by the charge of racism.

Gay rights groups were mad, during the AIDS epidemic, when Rooney mentioned homosexual unions in saying "many of the ills which kill us are self-induced." Indians protested when Rooney suggested Native Americans who made money from casinos weren't doing enough to help their own people.

Spoke out against Iraq invasion

He was one of television's few voices to strongly oppose the Iraq invasion after the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush launched it in 2003. After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, he said he was chastened by its quick fall but didn't regret his 60 Minutes commentaries.

"I'm in a position of feeling secure enough so that I can say what I think is right and if so many people think it's wrong that I get fired, well, I've got enough to eat," Rooney said at the time.

Andrew Aitken Rooney was born on Jan. 14, 1919, in Albany, N.Y., and worked as a copy boy on the Albany Knickerbocker News while in high school. College at Colgate University was cut short by the Second World War, when Rooney worked for Stars and Stripes.

With another former Stars and Stripes staffer, Oram C. Hutton, Rooney wrote four books about the war. They included the 1947 book, Their Conqueror's Peace: A Report to the American Stockholders, documenting offences against the Germans by occupying forces.

Rooney and his wife, Marguerite, were married for 62 years before she died of heart failure in 2004. They had four children and lived in Rowayton, Conn. Daughter Emily Rooney is a former executive producer of ABC's World News Tonight.


With files from CBC News