They divorced a year later. Rooney joined the Army, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.
When he returned to Hollywood, disillusionment awaited him. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nose dive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.
"I began to realize how few friends everyone has," he wrote in one of autobiographies. "All those Hollywood friends I had in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941, when I was the toast of the world, weren't friends at all."
His movie career never regained its prewar eminence. "The Bold and the Brave," 1956 World War II drama, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. But mostly, he played second leads in such films as "Off Limits" with Bob Hope, "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" with William Holden, and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" with Anthony Quinn.
In the early 1960s, he had a wild turn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" as Audrey Hepburn's bucktoothed Japanese neighbor, and he was among the fortune seekers in the all-star comedy "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World."
Rooney's starring roles came in low-budget films such as "Drive a Crooked Road," ''The Atomic Kid," ''Platinum High School," ''The Twinkle in God's Eye" and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini."
But no one ever could count Rooney out. He earned a fourth Oscar nomination, as supporting actor, for 1979's "Black Stallion," the same year he starred with Ann Miller in the Broadway revue "Sugar Babies," which brought him a Tony nomination and millions of dollars during his years with the show.
"I've been coming back like a rubber ball for years," Rooney wisecracked at the time.
In 1981 came his Emmy-winning performance as a disturbed man in "Bill." He found success with voice roles for animated films such as "The Fox and the Hound," ''The Care Bears Movie" and "Little Nemo."