Friday, January 16, 2015

In Memoriam: Mickey Rooney & Robin Williams

[purchase the first Night at the Museum movie]

After two quick posts on this theme, we have gone silent here, and that’s a shame, because there are many people in the music world who deserve commemoration. Just a few of the famous and less famous who passed in 2014, and who might make a good subject include, in chronological order of death: Phil Everly, Amiri Baraka, Ronny Jordan, Pete Seeger, Shirley Temple, Sid Caesar, Bob Casale, Paco de Lucia, Scott Asheton, Joe Lala, Nash the Slash, Jerry Vale, Casey Kasem, Horace Silver, Gerry Goffin, Bobby Womack, Tommy Ramone, Charlie Haden, Johnny Winter, Dick Wagner, Joe Sample, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Revere, Raphael Ravenscroft, Jack Bruce, Marcia Strassman, Rick Rosas, Jimmy Ruffin, and Buddy DeFranco. If you don’t know who these people are, you should check them out, what with the Internet having all of the information and all.

But I like to see connections, as can be seen by my last piece on Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan, and last year saw the release of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which turned out the be the first posthumously released film for both Mickey Rooney, who died on April 6, 2014 at the age of 93, and Robin Williams, who died on August 11, 2014, at the age of 63. Although neither of these show business masters are remembered best as musicians, they both dabbled in the field. And, anyway, I can write about whoever I want.

I’m not going to try to really discuss the careers of these two men—that has been done better and in more detail elsewhere. But their lives and careers, which intersected in these silly movies, have a number of parallels, and a few key differences.

Rooney, who was born in 1920 as Joseph Yule, Jr. to parents who were in vaudeville, made his stage debut as an infant and his film debut at age 6. His career spanned the age of silent films to Netflix, he was a decorated soldier in World War II, and he rebounded from a period where he was nearly forgotten to become a respected character actor on TV, in movies and on Broadway. Also, he was married eight times.

Williams was born in 1951 and was trained in the acting program at Julliard, although he left before graduation, actually encouraged by John Houseman to leave because there was nothing more for him to learn. He worked his way from brilliant, improvisational standup comedy, to Mork and Mindy, to roles in both comedies and serious films and on the stage.

Both men were known for their abundance of energy, their immense talent, their remarkable versatility and their general likeability. Unfortunately, both men also suffered from substance abuse issues—Rooney with alcohol and pills, and Williams with cocaine and alcohol. In Rooney’s case, though, he lived until a ripe old age, and, despite some health issues, was able to contribute a cameo to the Night at the Museum sequel in his nineties. Williams, on the other hand, committed suicide at only 63, with four movies, including Night at the Museum (for which he received much better reviews than the film), already in the can.

But, let’s talk about music, because this is, at its heart, a music blog. To be fair, Rooney’s musical career is a bit more substantial—he could play a number of musical instruments and sang in many films, often with Judy Garland, as in the clip above. He won a Tony Award in 1980 for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Sugar Babies. Williams’ musical career was much more limited, and was more of a novelty. He did sing as the Genie in Aladdin, and contributed some vocals to charity projects, but the video above is his cover of the Beatles’ "Come Together," with Bobby McFerrin, on an album of Beatles covers by various artists produced by George Martin as, essentially a tribute to himself.

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