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Christian Actor Mickey Rooney Dies at 93, Credited Faith for His Success: 'God Gave Me My Career'

( [email protected] ) Apr 07, 2014 03:57 PM EDT

Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney in 2012. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

The entertainment industry has experienced a significant loss this week; Mickey Rooney, the legendary actor known for his short stature and seemingly limitless skills, has died at 93. A born-again Christian, Rooney was an outspoken advocate for Christianity who credited his success to his faith in God.

"I believe God gave me my career. I was sent here to do my Father's work," The New York Times quoted Rooney as saying in July 1993.

Recognized as the" first child actor," Rooney charmed viewers in almost 200 movies, musicals, comedies and dramas. His career spanned almost the entirety of American film: he made his first movie, the silent "Not to Be Trusted," in 1926 and was still making movies nine decades later, including "Night at the Museum" (2006) and "The Muppets" (2011). His tumultuous personal life remained a tabloid favorite, consisting of eight marriages and continuing rumors of money trouble. Mr. Rooney was also an advocate for the elderly, calling on Congress to make elder abuse a specific crime.

But according to Rooney, the most important aspect of his life was not his impressive film resume, his long list of wives, or his political endeavors. Rather, the actor's faith in Jesus Christ carried him through his career

"Take your children to church," Rooney urged his viewers in a 2011 interview, "And teach them about Jesus Christ and God who makes the sunshine and moon glow and gives so many blessings. And if you go with God, and [if] Jesus Christ is your personal savior, and [you] leave [your] troubles and everything to God, everything will work out for you."

Rooney became a born-again Christian in the mid 1970's, and wrote about his religious experience he had at a coffee shop at Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, Calif. According to his 1991 book "Life is Too Short," a busboy with blond curls whispered in his ear, "Mr. Rooney, Jesus Christ loves you very much." He checked with the manager but found no busboy fitting such a description, leading Rooney to believe he was visited by an angel.

Yet the actor admitted he was no saint; after his wife, Barbara Ann Thomason, and his mother died, he got into alcohol and drugs and suffered various financial problems, including a bankruptcy. However, he believed his experiences gave him the credibility to encourage others to view time and relationships as blessings to be cherished.

"Today it's hustle and bustle," Rooney said, "That is not the answer... I would say to everybody, "time marches on, and it's a clock from the moment you're born. People today say "well I haven't gotten time." Everybody runs out of time. So take your time and enjoy everything that you have today. It'll be a blessing to you. And that blessing never stops."

Rooney was an advocate against elderly abuse, stating that he had been a victim at one time. He reportedly told Congress, "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. Later he stated, "No one experienced as much abuse as Jesus Christ."

The actor, who died of natural causes, shared his home with his son, Mark Rooney, and daughter-in-law, Charlene Rooney before his death, according to The Los Angeles Times. His oldest child, Mickey Rooney Jr, is an evangelical Christian.

The actor wrote in his book, "I've been short all my life. And if anyone wonders what my dying wish will be, they can stop wondering. That will be easy. I'll just tell them, 'I'll have a short bier.' "