Thank you, Andy Rooney

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(This piece originally appeared at CliqueClack in 2011, two months before Rooney passed away. Gawker is ending this week so I thought I’d post it here today.)

This is a love letter to Andy Rooney.

If you’re looking for snark about Rooney’s retirement, you won’t find it here. Don’t worry, though, because this is the Internet, and snark is always just a click away. Oh look: Gawker has one of their typical “we hate Andy Rooney because he’s older than our grandfathers!” posts up, titled “Andy Rooney Is Finally Done Talking.” The first line? “Momentously eyebrowed useless old crank Andy Rooney…”

Charming.

This isn’t a surprising thing, because for a while there Gawker had a regular “let’s hate on Andy Rooney” post every Monday morning after his 60 Minutes essays aired, but I was a little surprised by The AV Club’s similarly-titled hit piece, “Andy Rooney Is Done Complaining,” where the writer wonders if, when Rooney is done with his final essay, he will “vanish in a puff of cinder.” The only thing worse than these articles are what the readers say in the comments section below them.

This is an online world where cleverness is too often mistaken for wisdom.

In a press release yesterday, CBS announced that Rooney’s last “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” segment will air this Sunday on 60 Minutes. It will be his 1,097th essay for the show (he started them in 1978) and will be preceded by an interview with longtime 60 Minutes cohort, Morley Safer.

There’s been no definitive reason given for the change. We can speculate that it might just be because of Rooney’s age (he’s 92) or because CBS wants to go in another direction for the show (though they say they won’t replace Rooney). Or it could be a combination of the two. It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Rooney’s weekly column for Tribune Media Services would also be ending. An editor’s note has been attached to Rooney’s most recent columns that ominously said:

“Andy Rooney’s long-running weekly feature has switched to classic columns in the humorist’s signature style. TMS is also offering all subscribers a trial of our Humor Hotel package of commentary columns featuring witty insights on society and culture. The rotating staff of four writers for this weekly feature include a stand-up comedian, talk-show host, best-selling memoirist and Hollywood actress.”

Sigh. You ever get the feeling that all the things you love are going away, one by one?

This is a very sad day. Rooney is one of my favorite writers, and I’m not afraid to say that. I don’t mean it ironically or in a “laughing at him” sort of way. The guy is a great writer: clean, uncomplicated, wise, and funny. A lot of people only know Rooney from his 60 Minutes essays, and while I think that’s more than enough material to realize that the guy is a great writer, people might just think of him as “that guy from TV” and not understand that he’s done a lot more than that. He has written 16 books, including a terrific memoir of his time spent reporting overseas during World War II (My War) and many books of essays.

But there’s another side to Rooney too — a side beyond the writing — and it’s the reason I love him so much. If you only know him from TV, and you’re willing to just go with that whole “You ever wonder….” impersonation cliche and not really think about Rooney any more than that, you don’t know that he and his wife raised four great kids. You don’t know that he was married only once, to Margie, for 62 years, and after she died in 2004 it hurt him so much he cried himself to sleep and couldn’t even type her name in columns anymore. You don’t know that he served in World War II and wrote for The Stars and Stripes and saw the horrors of war. You don’t know that 60 Minutes wasn’t his only TV writing job — he actually started in the 1940s and worked for such people as Arthur Godfrey and Harry Reasoner and wrote for many shows over the years.

What has always struck me the most about Rooney is how normal and average he is, and I mean that as a compliment (that’s another thing the snarky writers at Gawker and The AV Club will never understand — normal and average can be a good thing). He is probably the most normal “famous” person in the world. A guy whose face and name are instantly recognizable, even though he never does interviews, doesn’t live in Hollywood, and never dated the rich and famous. The only scandals he has been involved in were actually rather minor if you look back on them. In the ’90s he said that he didn’t agree with the gay lifestyle, and after Kurt Cobain’s suicide he talked about how he couldn’t understand why young people were so upset by the death of Kurt Cobain and that he’d love to be that age again. He also disliked the term “African-American” instead of “black” and made some comments that some thought were insensitive. But these weren’t opinions born of hate or ignorance or uncaring, some rancid political or social agenda Rooney was trying to push on us. They were opinions based on the generation Rooney is from.

There’s a lot of people to hate in the world of television and publishing and media. But Andy Rooney? How the hell could anyone hate Andy Rooney? Think about it: what the hell did Rooney do to deserve this much bile? Is he wrecking cars on the highway? Is he stealing money or firing employees? Is he beating up hookers in hotel rooms? Is he selling drugs to minors? Is he flipping out and attacking TMZ cameramen? He’s a great-grandfather who keeps to himself and works in his woodshop and makes ice cream and has an innocuous three minute segment on a TV show – the most popular segment, incidentally, the ratings go down when he’s not on – where he talks about what’s on his mind (hey Gawker, almost like a blog!). One day the writers of Gawker are going to be in their 70s and 80s and 90s, replaced by robots that hit all of the snarky keywords and post the latest gossip about Lindsey Lohan’s great-grandchildren, and they’re going to have big eyebrows or a hand shake or imperfect facial features or boxes filled with memories. And, unlike Rooney, no one is going to remember anything they did in the 2000s. Because they were just the shit stains that posted insults on a blog, and everyone did that at the time. It was so easy.

Actually, for someone who works on one of the top TV shows of all-time and is a rather iconic figure, he actually seems like a decent, regular guy. Isn’t that something that should be celebrated?

In a 1995 interview with PBS’ Charlie Rose, Rose called him a “star,” a term Rooney truly disliked: He told Rose, “a writer is all the ‘star’ I wanted to be.” As a writer I know exactly what he means, and I hope that I can have a tenth of the career that Andy Rooney has had. He not only taught me how to write, he also taught me in a big way how to live. Thanks Andy.

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