New York Andy Rooney so dreaded the day he had to end his signature “60 Minutes” commentaries about life’s large and small absurdities that he kept going until he was 92 years old.
Even then, he said he wasn’t retiring. Writers never retire. But his life after the end of “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” was short: He died Friday night, according to CBS, only a month after delivering his 1,097th and final televised commentary.
Rooney had gone to the hospital for an undisclosed surgery, but major complications developed and he never recovered.
“Andy always said he wanted to work until the day he died, and he managed to do it, save the last few weeks in the hospital,” said his “60 Minutes” colleague, correspondent Steve Kroft.
Rooney talked on “60 Minutes” about what was in the news, and his opinions occasionally got him in trouble. 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.
Rooney 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.”
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.”
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.”
“60 Minutes” will end its broadcast today with a tribute to Rooney by veteran correspondent Morley Safer.
A life luckier than most
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.
He became such a part of the culture that comic Joe Piscopo satirized Rooney’s squeaky voice with the refrain, “Did you ever ...” 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.