Do you remember Mickey Rooney, the lovable actor from the 1940's and 1950's who starred in some of the best classic films of all time such as National Velvet, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Requiem for a Heavyweight and Black Stallion?
Mickey was born in September 1920 and died in April 2014 at the age of 93.
You might think that a Hollywood celebrity like Mickey Rooney, who appeared in 300 films, who won Golden Globes and was honored with an Academy Award, would have been worth millions. Unfortunately, Mickey made and lost millions over his career, struggled with alcoholism and addiction, married and divorced 8 times, and was ultimately the victim of elder financial abuse. At the time of his death he was reportedly worth $18,000.
While it was true that Rooney had lifelong troubles with finances, what surely made his final years more difficult was the fact that he had so many step-children and ex-wives, many of whom did not get along.
His complicated family situation made him especially vulnerable to being financially exploited, because he had long since turned over day-to-day handling of his finances and daily care to others.
Just one year after celebrating his 90th birthday at a star-studded gala at the Loew's Regency Hotel in New York with Donald Trump, Tony Bennett and Regis Philbin in attendance, Rooney's life took an unexpected and unwelcome turn. On February 16, 2011, a lawsuit was filed by attorney Michael Augustine, who was appointed as temporary conservator for the ailing actor, against Rooney's stepson, Christopher Aber, and his stepson's wife, Christina.
That lawsuit alleged that Rooney had been physically and emotionally abused for years, while being deprived of food and medications by his caregivers. Moreover, the lawsuit claimed, among other things, that his stepson had squandered millions of Rooney's savings, and failed to pay the mortgage on his house for more than 5 months.
According to court filings, Rooney "believed that Christopher Aber had coerced him into signing documents which resulted in financial detriment," and he "believes that his assets have been depleted by Christopher Aber and he is fearful that because (he) is gaining steps to regain control over his assets, Christopher Aber will do him bodily harm."
As befits a man of his pugnacious reputation, the legendary actor did not go down without a fight. On March 2, 2011, Rooney testified before a special Senate committee formed to consider legislation to curb abuses on senior citizens. "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated," Rooney told the senators.
"My money was taken and misused. When I asked for information, I was told that I couldn't have any of my own information. I was literally left powerless. But above all, when a man feels helpless, it's terrible."
And in words that will surely be long-remembered, Rooney wisely observed, "If elder abuse happened to me, Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anyone."
In October 2013, Rooney's court-appointed conservator agreed to a $2.8 million stipulated judgment.
Although Rooney's finances stabilized once a conservator took over, he never lived long enough to recoup any of that money. His stepson and stepson's wife filed for bankruptcy, and in July 2015 their insurance company refused to cover the judgment.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there either. In October 2017, Rooney's estranged widow, Janice Rooney, filed a lawsuit against the younger brother of Christopher Aber - Mark Aber (Janice Rooney's son from a previous marriage), and Mark's wife, Charlene - claiming that they were responsible for elder abuse against Mickey, and that they had formed a "bogus management company" and influenced Mickey to sign a contract giving them 15% of Mickey's earnings.
Yes, the Rooney family feud will eventually come to an end, but the damage has already been inflicted, and no one is going to come out of it for the better. Mickey was right - if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.
The lesson from the Mickey Rooney case seems clear to me: When communication between family members breaks down, everyone suffers. How much of Mickey Rooney's sad end could have been avoided is anyone's guess, but surely the family should have rallied around the patriarch to make his final years happier.
For all his faults as a human being, and like all of us Mickey Rooney had plenty of them, he surely deserved a happy ending.