Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney dies at 93

Mickey Rooney, the child actor who danced with Judy Garland, married Ava Gardner and made more than 250 movies, died Sunday at his home in North Hollywood. He was 93.

Celebrity website TMZ said Rooney had been ill for some time and died of natural causes. Police in Los Angeles said members of his large family were at his side.

"It is with sadness that I say my father has passed today," his son, choreographer Michael Rooney, said on Twitter. "I loved him and so did the world. He inspired so many. RIP dad."

Rooney rose to fame alongside Garland as the plucky diminutive lad -- he was 1.6 meters tall -- in the "Andy Hardy" movies of the late 1930s and early 1940s.

He also had notable turns as Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) and in "National Velvet" (1944), opposite Elizabeth Taylor, then 13.

More recently the still energetic Rooney appeared in the 2006 comedy "Night at the Museum," and in the 2011 movie "The Muppets."

A four-time Oscar nominee, Rooney was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1982 for lifetime achievement.

While professionally successful, Rooney had a rocky personal life.

He made and lost millions of dollars, married eight times and legally separated from his last wife, Jan, in June 2012. Along the way he fathered nine children.

"Mickey Rooney got all the best babes despite being short as hell. #RIP beautiful man," said Lena Dunham, creator and star of the hipster TV series "Girls," on Twitter.

- A lifetime of acting -

The son of vaudeville performers who divorced when he was three, Rooney was born Joe Yule, Jr on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York, and went on the road with his parents' act, in which he appeared as a midget in a tuxedo.

Rooney made his big screen debut in the 1926 film "Not to Be Trusted," and from 1927 to 1933 he went on to make about 50 silent comedies playing the comic-strip character Mickey McGuire.

Later, after meeting Garland at an acting class, he appeared with the popular young actress in a string of successful films, including the "Andy Hardy" series, starting at age 17.

Hollywood called him a "triple threat" -- someone who could act, sing and dance with amazing aplomb.

"The audience and I are friends," he once said. "They allowed me to grow up with them. I've let them down several times, they've let me down several times. But we're all family."

Rooney was the number-one US box office draw between 1939 and 1941, besting big names like Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. He even won a special youth Oscar in 1939.

But after serving in a morale-boosting entertainment unit in the US military in World War II, he found it difficult to relaunch his career.

He re-invented himself as a character actor, picking up small roles, and eventually landed his own television show, "The Mickey Rooney Show," in 1954.

In the 1960s, he made the rounds of nightclubs and the theater circuit while playing secondary roles in movies like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963).

He also shined as a horse trainer in the 1979 movie "The Black Stallion" -- for which he received an Oscar nomination -- and later in the 1990-1993 TV series "The New Adventures of the Black Stallion."

In the 1970s he took to the Broadway stage, earning a Tony best-actor nomination for "Sugar Babies."

- Eight marriages -

Speaking in an interview once about his multiple marriages, which included a trip down the aisle with sultry Hollywood legend Gardner, Rooney quipped: "When I say 'I do,' the Justice of the Peace replies, 'I know, I know'."

He added: "I'm the only man in the world whose marriage license reads, 'To Whom It May Concern.'"

"I had bad luck in marriage," Rooney said in a 2003 interview with a Florida newspaper, "but I'm grateful that they left me with seven sons and four daughters and seven grandchildren."

His final wife, Jan Chamberlin Rooney, said she "didn't want to marry him because of his track record, but I really fell in love with him. We've been married 30 years, and it's the ups that count."

Alas, the couple separated in 2012.

In 2011, Rooney filed elder abuse and fraud charges against stepson Christopher Aber, the son of his last wife, and Aber's wife. A court issued a restraining order against the Abers, and the case was settled in 2013 in Rooney's favor.

And yet Rooney kept up his acting chops -- and his career was set to take a novel turn when he was cast as Mr Louis in a film version of "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" by director B. Luciano Barsuglia, which is currently in production.

"I've been working all my life," he once said, "but it seems longer."