September 24, 2006
by Dan Kessel
Timothy Rooney, 2nd son of screen legend, Mickey Rooney, died yesterday, following a five year battle with dermatomyositis. Tim began his career as a child actor, appearing in numerous films and TV shows after a miraculous recovery from childhood polio, which had left him paralyzed for two years. He and older brother, Mickey Rooney Jr. along with good friend, Paul Petersen, were signed by Disney as original Mouseketeers in TV's, "The Mickey Mouse Club".
Timothy appeared in over a dozen films including "Riot on Sunset Strip", "King of the Roaring 20's" and "Village of the Giants". His acting in episodic television included "Bewitched", "Dragnet", "Gidget", "Adam-12" and a co-starring role in the sitcom, "Room For One More". Tim also did major voice-over work, some of which included Theodore in the "Chipmunk" cartoons, and ads for McDonald's.
Tim performed as a singer-songwriter on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show". He and brothers Mickey Jr. and Teddy were signed to Columbia Records, as "The Rooney Bros." in the late 60s, recording original material with producer, Jerry Fuller. And, both Tim and Mick Jr. recorded with stepbrothers Dan Kessel & David Kessel.
Timothy was a highly intelligent, articulate, charismatic, outgoing guy who became friendly with many notables including Elvis, Howard Hughes and General Omar Bradley.
Tim's mother, B.J. Baker, (Miss Alabama 1944, as Betty Jane Rase), was a top Hollywood background singer and vocal contractor for Sinatra, Elvis and many others, on countless records and films. She and his father Mickey married in 1944 after Rooney's divorce from first wife, actress Ava Gardner.
Timothy is survived by older brother, Mickey Rooney Jr.; stepbrothers Dan Kessel and David Kessel; dear friend Pamela McClenathan; brothers Teddy, Michael and Jimmy Rooney; sisters Kelly, Kerry, Kimmy Sue and Jonelle Rooney; stepbrothers Chris and Mark Aber-Rooney, stepmother Jan Chamberlain-Rooney and father, Mickey Rooney.
Dan Kessel Productions
9000 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Our extended family suffered a loss yesterday when our friend of more than 50 years, Tim Rooney, finally lost his fight with dermatomyositis, a cruel wasting disease that ravaged him over the past five years. He died at home, age 59, at his ranch in Hemet, with his dear friend Pam and his brothers at his side. Our sympathies extend to the entire Rooney Clan. This was a particularly personal loss for I have been close to the Rooney Boys, Mickey, Jr. and Tim, since we were all Mouseketeers together back in 1955. But this personal aspect goes beyond just knowing Timothy. He died on my birthday, a birthday I share with Tim’s father, Mickey Rooney, September 23rd.
When I was born, Mickey Rooney was already a star. The Mick is 25 years my senior. My mother believed it was a sign that I was born on Mickey Rooney’s birthday. My father, ever the realist, always focused on the fact that President Eisenhower was born on the 23rd as well. Mickey Rooney had already divorced Ava Gardner to marry the former Miss Alabama, Betty Jane Rase (who performed as B.J. Baker) and Mickey, Jr. was born before Tim came along in 1947. To say these boys were born at the most turbulent time in their father’s life would be a massive understatement.
Those of you familiar with my oft-told tale of Rooney’s visit to my flood-ravaged home in 1969 (this is when he told me that Hollywood was done with me, to get out of town, get my education, and return to the town that raised me in twenty-five years when “they might let you work again.”) will appreciate what life was like for Timothy and Mickey, Jr. bearing a famous name of a man whose professional decline would not come to an end until “Sugar Babies” arrived on Broadway. Life for the offspring of a famous person can be a hell of a mess. Just ask my kids. Mickey Rooney’s fame was another order of magnitude from mine, and the subsequent (and predictable) effects were much greater. You just never know how your children are going to turn out.
In the case of Timothy and his brother, the two Rooney kids I was closest to, these effects were especially cruel since both boys were sensitive, talented, and handsome, and as much a product of their mother as from the genes they inherited from The Mick. I’ll say it again and again…Mickey Jr. and Timothy were not given a fair shot by an industry and a public deeply conflicted by the notoriety of the father.
Tim’s courage in overcoming polio that left him unable to walk for two years showed early and often…and that same courage carried him through his illness with dignity and class.
I should have seen more of Timothy. I wish I had not used the distance to Hemet as an excuse. I thought there’d be more time. The end product of his unique life was an understanding and acceptance of the hand dealt to each of us. It’s not the problems that matter, but the way that you deal with them.