Rooney still spoke his mind, however. Thousands of angry letters arrived when he said Kurt Cobain, the young star of hit rock band "Nirvana," was essentially a waste of humanity for taking his own life. Native Americans demanded apologies when he belittled their efforts to stop sports teams from using names like "Braves" in 1995 and again in 1997 when he suggested Indian casino profits be used to support poor tribes. He reacted to the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in 1995 by offering a $1 million reward for information leading to the real killer - a reward he said he would never have to pay because Simpson committed the murders. His essay in 2004, in which he said God told him that the Rev. Pat Robertson and Mel Gibson were "whackos," resulted in 20,000 complaints - the most response any "60 Minutes" issue ever drew.
No group was off-limits for Rooney, especially CBS management and his own colleagues. Rooney poked fun at the "60 Minutes" correspondents on a regular basis in his essays, while he questioned CBS management on issues, such as layoffs and strikes, sometimes in his "60 Minutes" essays, but more often in his syndicated newspaper column for Tribune Media Services or in media interviews. During a Writers Guild of America strike against CBS, Rooney, though not in the union, supported it by not writing any "60 Minutes" pieces until the strike was settled. He publicly blamed CBS's troubles of the early 1990s on Chairman Laurence Tisch's cutbacks, daring Tisch to fire him.
Rooney was very popular with the public but drew criticism from the media for his controversial views and for the seemingly effortless style and content of his "60 Minutes" essays. He once took advantage of his popularity to get back at a critic. When Associated Press television critic Frazier Moore wrote that Rooney should quit because his material was getting old, Rooney took Moore to task by broadcasting the newswire's New York phone number, exhorting his "60 Minutes" viewers to tell the writer what they thought of his opinion. The Associated Press logged over 7,000 calls in 48 hours, the vast majority in favor of Rooney.
He rarely attacked his critics publicly, in fact, he sometimes embraced them. On many occasions, he read on the air their most cutting letters, sometimes admitting he was wrong and apologizing. The Cobain and the O.J. Simpson incidents were both essays he regretted writing and he said so on air.
Andrew Aitken Rooney was born January 14, 1919 in Albany, N.Y. He graduated from Albany Academy High School and attended Colgate University until being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941, his junior year. After brief service in an artillery unit in England, he became a correspondent for The Stars and Stripes for three years. Rooney was one of six correspondents to fly with the Army's 8th Air Force on the second American bombing raid over Germany - a risky mission the enemy fully expected. He then covered the Allied invasion of Europe and, after the surrender of Germany, filed reports from the Far East. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his reporting under fire at the battle of Saint Lo.
Rooney wrote about his war experiences in his first three books, the second of which, The Story of the Stars and Stripes, was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for movie rights. Despite going to Hollywood and writing a film script, the film was never made, but the sizable sum he earned enabled him to write as a freelancer for several years after the war.
He was hired by CBS in 1949 after a bold encounter in the elevator with Arthur Godfrey. Rooney told the biggest radio star of the day he could use some better writing. His nerve moved Godfrey to hire him for "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," which moved to television and became a top-10 hit that was number one in 1952. He also wrote for Godfrey's other primetime program, "Arthur Godfrey and His Friends," and the star's daily morning show. He became Godfrey's only writer in 1953, before quitting the lucrative work in 1955 because he felt he could be doing something more important. But after a period of unemployment, with a wife and four children to support, he returned to television writing on CBS' "The Morning News with Will Rogers, Jr." in 1957. The best thing that happened to Rooney on the short-lived program was meeting and befriending CBS News Correspondent Harry Reasoner, with whom he collaborated later to great success.
He also wrote for "The Garry Moore Show" (1959-'65), helping it to achieve hit status as a top-20 program. Such regularly featured talents as Victor Borge, Bob and Ray and Perry Como spoke the words written by Rooney during this period. At the same time, he wrote for CBS News public affairs broadcasts, including "The Twentieth Century," "News of America" and "Adventure," and he freelanced articles for the biggest magazines of the day.
By the mid-1960s, Rooney's name was a familiar credit at the end of CBS News programs. "The most felicitous nonfiction writer in television" is how Time magazine described Rooney in 1969, a winner of the Writers Guild Award for Best Script of the Year six times.
Rooney had convinced CBS News he could write for television on any subject when he wrote his first television essay in 1964, an original genre he is credited with developing. Proving his point, he picked doors as the subject and Reasoner as the voice for "An Essay on Doors." The team - Rooney writing and producing and Reasoner narrating -- went on to create such critically acclaimed specials as "An Essay on Bridges" (1965), "An Essay on Hotels" (1966), "An Essay on Women" (1967), "An Essay on Chairs" (1968) and "The Strange Case of the English Language" (1968). Rooney also wrote and produced many news documentaries, including the most comprehensive television treatment of Frank Sinatra, "Frank Sinatra: Living With the Legend," in 1965. He wrote two CBS News specials for the series "Of Black America" in 1968, one of which, "Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed," won him his first Emmy and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards First Prize for Television.
Rooney also produced for Reasoner at "60 Minutes" during the broadcast's first few seasons and made his on-screen "debut." He and the broadcast's senior producer, Palmer Williams, appeared in silhouette as "Ipso and Facto" in a short-lived opinion segment called "Digressions." Then, after Reasoner left for ABC in 1970, Rooney also left the network briefly. Having trouble getting his material on the air, he purchased his "An Essay on War" from CBS and took it to public television to be broadcast on "Great American Dream Machine." The 1971 program was Rooney's first appearance as himself on television and won him his third Writers Guild Award. He wrote and produced more essays for the program, appearing in those as well.