Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips discusses the life and career of Mickey Rooney.

Actor Mickey Rooney, who became the United States' biggest movie star while still a brash teenager in the 1930s and later a versatile character actor in a career that spanned 10 decades, died on Sunday, friends and entertainment media said. He was 93.

Rooney, who developed a reputation as a hard-partying, off-screen brat in his heyday and married eight times, died at his home in Studio City, the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner said, citing the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

Coroner's office watch commander Larry Dietz said the LAPD informed the office that Rooney died at home on Sunday of natural causes.

Representatives for Rooney were not immediately available for comment.

"He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived.  There was nothing he couldn't do," actress Margaret O'Brien said in a statement.

She said she had worked recently with Rooney on a film, "The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde," and he "was as great as ever" during the filming.

Actress Rose Marie, a long-time friend, said he was one of the greatest talents show business had ever had. "I shall miss him and the world shall miss him," she said in a statement.

Rooney was an entertainer almost from the day he was born in New York on September 23, 1920. His parents, Joe Yule Sr. and Nell, had a vaudeville act and Joe Jr., as he was known then, was not yet 2 years old when he became a part of it, appearing in a miniature tuxedo.

As he grew older, Rooney added dancing and joke-telling to his stage repertoire before landing his first film role - a cigar-smoking little person in the silent short "Not to Be Trusted."

After his parents split, Rooney and his mother moved to California where she steered him into a movie career. He was about 7 when he was cast as the title character in the "Mickey McGuire" series of film shorts that ran from 1927 to 1934. Nell even had his name changed to Mickey McGuire before changing the last name again to Rooney when he began getting other roles.

As a teenager, Rooney was cute, diminutive (he topped out at 5 feet 2 inches) and bursting with hammy energy. Those attributes served him well when he was cast as the wide-eyed, wise-cracking Andy Hardy in a series of films that would give movie-goers a brief opportunity to forget the lingering woes of the Great Depression in the late 1930s.

"KID" OSCAR

The first "Andy Hardy" film, "A Family Affair" in 1937, became a surprise hit and led to a series of 16, with Rooney's character becoming the main focus and helping make him the biggest box-office attraction of 1939 and 1940. The Hardy films were wholesome, sentimental comedies in which Andy would often learn a valuable lesson from his wise father, Judge Hardy.

In 1938, Rooney and Deanna Durbin received miniature Academy Awards for juveniles.

"Call him cocky and brash but he has the sort of exuberant talent that keeps your eyes on the screen," the New York Times said of Rooney in a 1940 review.

It was in "Love Finds Andy Hardy" that he first worked with Judy Garland, who was on the verge of superstardom herself with "The Wizard of Oz."

They made two more Hardy movies together and in 1939 were cast together in "Babes in Arms," a Busby Berkeley musical about two struggling young entertainers that earned Rooney, then 19, an Academy Award nomination.

Movie-goers loved the lively "let's put on a show!" chemistry that Rooney and Garland brought to the screen. They were paired again in "Girl Crazy" in 1943.

"We weren't just a team, we were magic," Rooney said in a stage show about his life.

Rooney proved he could handle serious roles, too, with a notable performance in 1938 in "Boys Town" as a troubled kid helped out by a kindly priest played by Spencer Tracy.

He picked up another Oscar nomination for "The Human Comedy" in 1943 and starred with Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet" in 1944.