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Mickey Rooney seeks career revival under new conservatorship

By Alan Duke, CNN
Mickey Rooney gave emotional testimony before a Senate Special Committee on Aging earlier this month.
Mickey Rooney gave emotional testimony before a Senate Special Committee on Aging earlier this month.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We're going to get him working," Rooney's conservator says
  • A judge appointed a conservator to oversee Rooney's affairs Friday
  • Rooney says the conservator needs to protect him from stepchildren
  • The actor testified to Congress about elder abuse this month

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Mickey Rooney must revive his show business career soon or he will die "in very short order," the lawyer appointed to oversee the 90-year-old actor's affairs told CNN Friday.

"He's available, he's marketable and we're going to get him working," said Michael Augustine.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Reva Goetz cleared the way for a Rooney resurgence Friday by appointing Augustine as permanent conservator, a move Rooney said he needed to protect him from his stepson and stepdaughter.

Rooney's plight came to national attention when he delivered emotional testimony to Congress earlier this month in which he said family members took control of his life, making him "scared, disappointed, yes, and angry."

Goetz issued a temporary restraining order last month prohibiting Christopher Aber, who is the son of Rooney's wife, from coming within 100 feet of the actor. Lawyers from both sides indicated they were near an agreement to remove that order.

Aber's lawyer said the conservatorship, which removes the stepson from involvement in Rooney's business, would "bring peace a little closer" for the family. But attorney John O'Meara said "relationship mending, that's going to take a little time."

Rooney's wife, Jan, in a written statement to the judge, said that while she initially objected to her husband being placed under a conservatorship, she now is supportive. The arrangement should help "to restore peace in my family" and pave the way for Rooney to "perform individually and with me."

Mickey and Jan Rooney occasionally perform as a musical duo, including last June at an anniversary tribute on the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's death.

Augustine, in a CNN interview after Friday's hearing, said he would immediately seek movie, television and commercial roles for Rooney, who he said is in good physical and mental health.

"Mr. Rooney's parents put him on the vaudeville stage when he was 17 months old," Augustine said. "Mr. Rooney has had an 88-year career. If Mr. Rooney were to not work, I think we would be attending Mr. Rooney's funeral in very short order. It's part of his fiber. He loves it. He is a showman."

Another urgent reason to get work for Rooney is that he needs money, Augustine said.

"That's not a secret," he said. "We brought this matter because bank accounts have been dissipated, money's disappeared."

The judge indicated Rooney needed cash to pay a delinquent mortgage.

He also needs a new ride, Augustine said. His old car is "just a beater that's been there for a while."

Rooney has been in demand as a spokesman for elder abuse causes since his emotional appearance before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in early March, Augustine said.

He is negotiating a deal for Rooney to narrate a documentary about elder abuse and the actor is booked to speak at a symposium on the subject next week, he said.

If Mr. Rooney were to not work, I think we would be attending Mr. Rooney's funeral in very short order. It's part of his fiber. He loves it. He is a showman.
--Michael Augustine, newly named conservator for Mickey Rooney
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Rooney was the highest paid actor in Hollywood in 1941, out-earning movie stars Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, Augustine said.

Demand for Rooney's talent may be increased by this week's death of his "National Velvet" co-star Elizabeth Taylor, he said.

Rooney made his audience laugh and cry this month when he implored senators to stop what experts call chronic emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse of elderly Americans by family members and other caregivers.

"You can't believe that it's happening to you," Rooney said. "You feel overwhelmed."

The committee's hearing brought attention to what experts call chronic elder abuse in America. Rooney said Congress should pass a law to make it a specific crime.

"I'm asking you to stop this elderly abuse. I mean to stop it. Now. Not tomorrow, not next month, but now," he shouted from the witness table. Pass legislation and send it to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, he urged, so that the nation can say "it's a crime and we will not allow it in the United States of America."

Following the hearing, committee chairman, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, introduced legislation that would create an Office of Elder Justice within the Department of Justice to help coordinate law enforcement response to elder abuse.

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, more than 14% of noninstitutionalized older adults experienced some form of elder abuse in 2009. The report cautions that number may be lower than the reality because many instances of such abuse are under-reported.

"For years I suffered silently. I didn't want to tell anybody. I couldn't muster the courage and you have to have courage," Rooney said. "I needed help and I knew I needed it. Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to shut up and be quiet."

The GAO report found that many Adult Protective Service programs at the state level have growing case loads and dwindling resources. The elder population of the United States is expected to grow by 60% over the next 25 years.

Rooney summed up the challenge when he spoke of the personal difficulty that victims of elder abuse face.

"You're afraid, but you're also thinking about your other family members," he said, noting concern about potential criticism from "your family, your friends, people who know them."

"They might not want to accept the dysfunction," Rooney said, adding that "one should love their families as I do. I love my family."

The diminutive Rooney has been a film star for decades, starting with his role in Andy Hardy films in the 1930s.

CNN's Sally Holland contributed to this story.

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