CBS: '60 Minutes' Veteran Newsman Andy Rooney Dies

Nov 5, 2011
Originally published on May 23, 2012 10:18 am

A distinctive voice — and character — in television news has died. Andy Rooney was a signature essayist on the CBS news program 60 Minutes for decades. He was 92.

CBS said Rooney died Friday night in New York of complications following minor surgery last month. Just a month ago, he delivered his last regular essay on the CBS newsmagazine.

Rooney was one of the most famous curmudgeons in American public life. And not just on TV: He typically refused to sign autographs or return letters from fans.

His now famous gig with CBS's 60 Minutes started on July 2, 1978. It was initially called "Three Minutes or So With Andy Rooney." On it, he quipped about everyday subjects, like warnings over the perils of driving during the Independence Day holiday:

"We were curious about the car death figures and ... the total picture of our demise in America. It turns out that the Fourth of July is really a very safe weekend for us," said Rooney, ever the contrarian.

The segment soon became a distinctive and weekly bookend to the show's exposes and profiles. It was also a new and defining chapter in Rooney's career.

Early Career

Andy Rooney was born in Albany, N.Y., in 1919. He left Colgate University during World War II to become a reporter for the Army publication Stars and Stripes. Rooney told his friend and 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer that he had initially been a reluctant warrior.

"I thought it was wrong to go into any war, and I got to the war and saw the Germans and I changed my mind," he said. "I decided we were right going into World War II."

Rooney flew with Army Air Force bombers during raids over Germany in 1943 and landed at Normandy just after D-Day. He gained recognition for his crisp writing and bravery under fire. He joined CBS several years after World War II, first as a writer for top entertainment shows, later for news, collaborating with CBS's Harry Reasoner as a writer and producer.

Signature Essays

Rooney contributed his own essays and reported pieces, some of them quite serious about war and fraud and other hard news stories. But in his trademark pieces, he painted in miniature.

In one piece, he remarked on the estimated 1.5 billion people who buy things online.

"It's one of those figures I doubt — but even if it's true, the idea of buying something I can't see or touch just doesn't interest me at all," he said.

In another, he remarked on airport security after the September 2001 attacks.

"I hate to say this; I love saying things I hate to say," he said, "but the airlines are in more trouble than they know because flying simply is not fun anymore."

Once, he discussed being a sucker for kitchen tools.

"Over the years, I've filled our kitchen drawers with gadgets we never use. This seemed like a good idea at the time," he said, holding up one such gadget. "It's for grating Parmesan cheese. Well, we buy cheese already grated now."

At times, he offended viewers, and he was briefly suspended for remarks about gays and blacks. But even his less controversial remarks inspired material for countless comedians.

"He just reminds me of what a great country we live in where a person can watch somebody slowly go insane on television," comedian Frank Caliendo said during a standup routine on his TBS show.

"You're probably wondering the same thing I am," he said, doing an impression of Rooney figuring out the iPhone. "Where's the long curly cord? Maybe it comes in a separate package — maybe 40 years ago — when I was 75."

In early October, the real Rooney offered his valedictory essay:

"When I went on television, it was as a writer. I don't think of myself as a television personality," he said. "I'm a writer — who reads what he's written."

Ever the grouch, he asked viewers to leave him alone in retirement. But he smiled. As Rooney told viewers on that last appearance, he had led a lucky life.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

One of the most distinctive voices in television news has died. Andy Rooney was a signature essayist for CBS News. He died last night in New York at the age of 92. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has this remembrance.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Rooney was one of the most famous curmudgeons in American public life. And not just on TV. He typically refused to sign autographs or to respond to letters from fans. His now famous gig with CBS's "60 Minutes" started on July 2nd, 1978. It was initially called "Three Minutes or So With Andy Rooney." And in it, he questioned warnings over the perils of driving during the Independence Day holiday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ANDY ROONEY: We were curious about the car death figures and how they fit into the total picture of our demise in America.

FOLKENFLIK: As ever, Rooney, was the contrarian.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ROONEY: It turns out that the Fourth of July is really quite a very safe weekend for us.

FOLKENFLIK: The segment soon became a distinctive and weekly bookend to the show's exposes and profiles. It was also a new and defining chapter in Rooney's career.

Andy Rooney was born and raised in Albany, New York in 1919. He left Colgate University during World War II to become a reporter for the Army publication "Stars and Stripes." Rooney told his friend and "60 Minutes" colleague Morley Safer that he had initially been a reluctant warrior.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROONEY: I thought it was wrong to go into any war, and I got to the war and saw the Germans and I changed my mind. I decided we were right going into World War II.

FOLKENFLIK: Rooney flew with Army Air Force bombers during raids over Germany in 1943 and he landed at Normandy just after D-Day. He gained recognition for his crisp writing and bravery under fire. He joined CBS several years after World War II, first as a writer for top entertainment shows, later for news. Rooney contributed his own essays and reported pieces, some of them quite serious about war and fraud and other hard news stories. But in his trademark essays, he painted in miniature. Here he was on the estimated 1.5 billion people who buy things online.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ROONEY: Some of those figures I doubt - but even if it's true, the idea of buying something I can't see or touch just doesn't interest me at all.

FOLKENFLIK: On airport security after the September 2001 attacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ROONEY: I hate to say this; I love saying things I hate to say, but the airlines are in more trouble than they know because flying simply is not fun anymore.

FOLKENFLIK: On being a sucker for kitchen tools.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ROONEY: Over the years, I've filled our kitchen drawers with gadgets we never use. This seemed like a good idea at the time. It's for grating Parmesan cheese. Well, we buy cheese already grated now.

FOLKENFLIK: At times, he offended viewers, and was briefly suspended for remarks about gays and blacks. But even Rooney's less controversial remarks inspired material for countless comedians.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

FRANK CALIENDO: Well, he just reminds me of what a great country we live in, where a person can watch somebody slowly go insane on television.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOLKENFLIK: That's Frank Caliendo, here with an impression on Rooney figuring out the iPhone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

CALIENDO: You're probably wondering the same thing I am. Where's the long curly cord?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CALIENDO: Maybe it comes in a separate package. Forty years ago - when I was 75.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOLKENFLIK: In early October, the real Rooney offered his valedictory essay.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

ROONEY: When I went on television, it was as a writer. I don't think of myself as a television personality. I'm a writer - who reads what he's written.

FOLKENFLIK: Ever the grouch, he asked viewers to leave him alone in retirement. But he smiled. As Rooney told viewers on that last appearance, he had led a lucky life. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.