The TV journalist was 92 and had undergone minor surgery during the third week of October, only to suffer what were termed “serious complications.”
Rooney, a widower since 2004, is survived by his four children.
A mere two weeks before his hospitalization, on Oct. 2, Rooney signed off a final time from the CBS Sunday-night weekly newsmagazine that made him a household name – thanks to 1,097 essays on topics ranging from religion to his messy office.
Speaking to PEOPLE in 1995, at the time his WWII memoir, My War, had just been published, Rooney, originally from Albany, N.Y., recalled his collegiate, military and, eventually, journalistic career.
Drafted in 1941 while still a junior at Colgate University, Rooney had flirted with the idea of declaring himself a conscientious objector, only to conclude he wasn’t a pacifist, after all. As it turned out, his only hand-to-hand combat came during basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C., when a bullying corporal challenged the “college guy” to fight – and quickly discovered that a liberal arts education can include learning how to apply a paralyzing full nelson.
Covered World War II
Rooney would see plenty of action, as well as the notorious Buchenwald death camp, in his four years of service – all from the vantage point of the press box. After arriving in England with the 17th Field Artillery Regiment in July 1942, he answered a call to help staff the Army’s London-based daily newspaper, Stars and Stripes, and quickly graduated from writing up medal ceremonies to covering the Eighth Air Force.
Among the others assigned to the bombing beat: Rooney’s future CBS associate, Walter Cronkite, then a United Press correspondent.
At war’s end, Rooney returned to the bride he had taken shortly before being shipped overseas, Marge Howard, a Bryn Mawr graduate whom he had known since they were teenagers. Within months of his arrival, the Rooneys, who eventually reared four children, were bound for Hollywood, where MGM was trying to produce a war scenario he had written, though the project didn’t pan out.
Rooney didn’t abandon showbiz, however. He went to work writing for such radio and TV stars as Arthur Godfrey and Garry Moore before teaming up with Harry Reasoner in 1962 on CBS documentaries.
After stints at PBS and ABC in the early 1970s, he joined 60 Minutes in 1978, lending his lighthearted personal touch to the end of the hour and, in his own crusty fashion, helping bring a smile to millions – and always providing fodder for water-cooler conversation the next morning.