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Saturday
Nov052011

Journalist Andy Rooney Dies at 92

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Andy Rooney, the rumpled writer whose weekly riffs about the absurdities of everyday life made him one of television's longest-running commentators, died Friday night, just weeks after his farewell broadcast on "60 Minutes." He was 92.

He died from complications from a recent surgery.

Rooney presented his first commentary on "60 Minutes" in 1978 and he became a weekly fixture the following year when he assumed his perch at the end of the broadcast.

It would be a remarkable run. By the end of Rooney's final appearance Sunday, Oct. 2, he had presented 1,097 original essays and had worked for CBS for 62 years.

"One day about 10 years ago the door to my office opened and who walked in but Bill Gates. … Seemed like a nice guy and has done more with his money than most billionaires. But that's as far as I want to go being kind to Bill Gates," Rooney said in one of his classic essays.

"I had one typewriter for 50 years, but I have bought seven computers in six years. I suppose that's why Bill Gates is rich, and Underwood is out of business."

In a 2008 commentary, Rooney marveled at the flood of Christmas catalogues stuffing his mailbox. "This is a Sears catalogue. Sears, whatever happened to Roebuck? You never hear Sears, Roebuck anymore. Call if you're out there, Roebuck," he deadpanned.

In one of his final appearances, Rooney kvetched about changes in pop music. "If I am so 'average American,' how come that I have never heard of most of the musical groups that millions of others Americans apparently are listening to," he said.

"The singers I know have been replaced by singers like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Usher. I mean, who?"

Andrew Aitken "Andy" Rooney was born in Albany, N.Y. in 1919. In 1941, while attending Colgate University, he was drafted into the Army, leading to one of Rooney's formative experiences, covering World War II for the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper, what he called "the single luckiest thing that ever happened to me."

"I hate to say it, but I had a great time in World War II," he once said.

While in London, he met two men who would go on to iconic success at CBS, Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt. Rooney followed them to CBS in 1949 as a writer for "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" and then "The Garry Moore Show." He also began writing for CBS News, for such programs as "The Twentieth Century" and "The Morning Show with Will Rogers, Jr."

In 1962, Rooney began a long collaboration with the correspondent Harry Reasoner, writing and producing a series of Reasoner's CBS News specials.

Rooney won the first of his four Emmy Awards in 1968, for writing an installment of the CBS News series, "Of Black America." That same year, he also joined the staff of a new program helmed by his old friend Hewitt: "60 Minutes."

At first, Rooney worked as a producer on the broadcast with no thought, he would later claim, of appearing on the air himself. But in that initial season, he appeared in silhouette with a "60 Minutes" senior producer for an end-of-the broadcast segment called "Ipso and Facto."

"It was one of many experiments … Hewitt tried as an end for the program," according to Rooney's official CBS News biography.

Hewitt eventually settled on a point-counterpoint segment that featured the liberal Shana Alexander and the conservative James J. Kilpatrick presenting dueling opinions. After having Rooney deliver some commentaries in 1978, Hewitt gave him the end-of-the-show slot full time beginning in the fall of 1979.

Through the years, television changed, but Rooney did not. He was the crusty uncle, and then the cranky grandfather, serving up wry slices of life. Week after week, year after year, Rooney taped his appearances while sitting behind his desk in his book-lined office. Visually appealing, it was not. For Rooney, the words were what mattered.

But those words sometimes got him in trouble.

In 1990, Rooney was given a three-month suspension by CBS for remarks that many considered offensive. They included a commentary in 1989, when the AIDS epidemic raged, in which Rooney lumped in "homosexual unions" with smoking and drinking as "self induced" ills that "lead quite often to pre-mature death."

So many viewers objected to the suspension -- CBS was flooded with thousands of letters and telephone calls -- the network reinstated Rooney after just one month.

Rooney authored 16 books, including Air Gunner; the Story of the Stars and Stripes, The Fortunes of War, A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney, and most recently, in 2009, Andy Rooney: 60 Years of Wisdom and Wit.

A weekly newspaper column, which he wrote beginning in 1979, was recognized in 2003 by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists with its Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rooney and his wife, Marguerite, were married for 62 years before her death, in 2009. They had four children, including Emily Rooney, a former executive producer of ABC's World News Tonight, and Brian Rooney, a former ABC correspondent.

In his final broadcast earlier this month, Rooney spoke -- in his typically prickly style -- of his relationship with his audience. "I spent my first 50 years trying to become known as a writer and the next 30 trying to avoid being famous," he said. "I walk down the street or go to a football game and people shout, 'Hey Andy." I hate that."

Still, he allowed a moment of warmth and gratitude. "All this time I've been paid to say what is on my mind in television," he said. "You don't get any luckier than that."

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