I was saddened by the news early this morning when CBS alerted the world that Andy Rooney died Friday night.
I actually got word of his death on my Blackberry (yes, I still have one) as an alert from the Washington Post. That probably would have rated a sentimental jab from Rooney about the demise of the teletype and cable wire as the main bearer of bad news, but I digress.
The 92-year-old was one of my broadcast heroes throughout my career.
It was tough going to want to be a curmudgeon when you’re just in your twenties, which I suppose explains my career arc, or lack of one. You spend your life in punk purgatory before anyone lets you curmudge for a living.
But CBS seemed to have all the broadcast oddballs. Kuralt, Osgood, Rooney. They were the guys allowed to be a little more than a minute-and-a-half would allow. They had personality and more. They weren’t the hard-ass stand up guys with the Capitol sticking out of their head. Oh,they were good reporters, too. But Kuralt was folksy. Osgood was witty and bow-tied. Rooney was, well you know what he was. Eyebrowed. None of those guys were the prettiest things on TV. But they were the writers on TV, the literary stars who could turn a phrase when there were no pictures.
Rooney was the most daring. More often than not it was just him staring into the camera like an aging bullfighter, or doing a show-and tell, holding up an example of his ironic subject and point of his ire. One commentary that made an impression was where he held up a Sunday paper and started cleaning it as if it were a fish. I never quite looked at another Sunday paper the same way again.
Not many places let you do the kind of thing Rooney did. And there was a time I could tell the TV guys made him throw more pictures in. That’s when I first thought maybe Old Eyebrows was failing. But he still had the look and the sound. He could still pose the rhetorical “nagging question” better than anyone. When you’re a professional curmudgeon, fine wine is for sissies. Curmudgeons age like an old boot.
When everyone said goodbye a month ago, I resisted joining in on the tributes back then, knowing he was just reaching his curmudgeonly prime, hoping that all the retirement talk was premature, and that, indeed, he’d be back for more. They always say that, and then it never happens.
My regret is that I never got to meet him, though I suspect it’s better that way. I would probably have done something non-pre-curmudgeon-like like ask for an autograph. And we all know how much he liked that.
The closest I came to him was working briefly with his daughter Emily in Boston. Now there’s a tough cookie.
My condolences to the family.
So long Andy. And don’t worry, after you get past the gates, there are few autograph seekers in the after-life.