Mickey Rooney Jr., Musician, Actor and First Child of a Screen Legend, Dies at 77

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Mickey Rooney Jr., an original Mouseketeer, musician and actor who was the first of screen legend Mickey Rooney‘s nine children, has died. He was 77.

Rooney Jr. died Saturday at his home in Glendale, Arizona, his longtime companion Chrissie Brown told The Hollywood Reporter. The cause of death is unknown, she said.

Rooney Jr. played in bands with Willie Nelson and appeared with the actor-musician in Jerry Schatzberg’s Honeysuckle Rose (1980) and Alan Rudolph’s Songwriter (1984). He also had small parts in John Brahm’s Hot Rods to Hell (1966) — he helped score the soundtrack — and in the 1975 NBC movie Beyond the Bermuda Triangle.

His mother was Betty Jane Baker, a singer and winner of the 1944 Miss Alabama beauty pageant. She first met Mickey Rooney when he was stationed in the U.S. Army in Birmingham, Alabama, during World War II. She became the second of his eight wives (after Ava Gardner and before fellow actress Martha Vickers); they were married from 1944 until their 1948 divorce.

Joseph Yule III (his dad’s birthname was Joe Yule Jr.) was born in Birmingham on July 3, 1945.

He and brother Tim Rooney were hired as backup castmembers on ABC’s The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955. He worked on a handful of episodes before they were fired after some mischief in the Disney paint department. (Paul Petersen, another original Mouseketeer, also was canned that first season.)

“Mickey Junior was tall and talented,” Petersen wrote on Facebook. “He could sing, dance and act … and get in trouble. We three were fired for Conduct Unbecoming a Mouse!”

Rooney Jr. played guitar, keyboard, bass, drums and harmonica. “My grandmother, Nanny Rase, had a ukulele,” he said in a 2001 interview with the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper. “When I was 11 years old, she asked if I would like her to show me some chords. I could play the chords she showed me. I put those chords to use on a classical guitar, and I was hooked.”

Mickey Rooney at home in Beverly Hills with sons Mickey Rooney Jr. (left) and Tim Rooney in October 1964.

Courtesy Everett Collection

In the ’60s, he recorded songs including “The Wandering Wind,” “The Choice Is Yours” and “It Certainly Ain’t a Nice Thing,” appeared on the ABC music show Shindig! and played in a band with brothers Tim and Teddy.

In the ’70s, he introduced his father to his eventual last wife, aspiring country singer Jan Chamberlin.

Rooney Jr. was married to Merci Montello, a Playboy Playmate in 1972, and Laura Hollander before he and Brown, a singer and musician, first met about 18 years ago.

She noted that he had overcome drug and alcohol problems that had plagued him earlier in his life and had stopped smoking. “He was a wonderful man,” she said. “The last 18 years with me and my family, he’s been an angel.”

Petersen has set up a GoFundMe page to help her with expenses through his nonprofit organization, A Minor Consideration, which supports former kid actors.

“Mickey Junior was the personification of ‘damaged goods.’ He gave all he could,” Petersen wrote. “I was born on the same day as Mickey’s father and ‘The Mic’ gave me, unsolicited mind you, the most useful advice I ever got. It is one of my greatest sorrows that he didn’t do the same for his son. Mickey Rooney Junior. Rest In Peace at last.”