Longtime CBS journalist and 60 Minutes essayist Andy Rooney died Friday night at age 92 of complications from minor surgery, CBS News announced Saturday morning. Just last month, Rooney announced, in the commentary above, that he was stepping down from his longtime post, in which he complained weekly about the irritations of modern life and the timeless idiocies of humanity.
When he announced that he was stepping down, I wrote a tribute to his work, and the way in which it prefigured the work even of commentators and writers who are unlike him:
[M]any writers who use snark as a weapon carry a little of his influence. I’m one of them, even if I haven’t regularly watched his commentaries in years. While it’s easy to sum him up as an old grouch, telling the world to get off his televisual lawn, one of my favorite observations of his was a very unstereotypically-Rooney sentiment, about how myopic it is for one generation to assume that everything new is worse. I read it in a book of his essays when I was in high school: “It’s just amazing how long this country has been going to hell without ever having got there.”
CBS paid tribute to the man who had served the network for so much of his life. Said longtime colleague Morley Safer, “Underneath that gruff exterior, was a prickly interior… and deeper down was a sweet and gentle man, a patriot with a love of all things American, like good bourbon and a delicious hatred for prejudice and hypocrisy.” Said anchor Scott Pelley: “The Romans had Cicero. The English had Dickens. America had Andy. He hid a philosopher’s genius behind the honest prose of Everyman. Apparently, God needed a writer.”
But Rooney may have given himself his best tribute in his last commentary, in which he describes his career beginning as a writer for Stars and Stripes, and telling the familiar story of an essayist’s career beginning: being fortunate/unfortunate enough to have been told by a teacher that you were a good writer. Rooney was, and an unfussily natural on-camera performer to boot. He plainly enjoyed his work, and the happiest part about his ending is that he got to do it very nearly until the end. RIP.