While his mother danced in the chorus, young Joe was wowing audiences with his heartfelt rendition of "Pal o' My Cradle Days." During a tour to California, the boy made his film debut in 1926's "Not to Be Trusted."
The Mickey McGuire short comedies that followed gave him a new stage name, later appended, at his mother's suggestion, to the last name Rooney, after vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney.
After splitting with Gardner, Rooney married Betty Jane Rase, Miss Birmingham of 1944, whom he had met during military training in Alabama. They had two sons and divorced after four years. (Their son Timothy died in September 2006 at age 59 after a battle with a muscle disease called dermatomyositis.)
His third and fourth marriages were to actress Martha Vickers (one son) and model Elaine Mahnken.
The fifth Mrs. Rooney, model Barbara Thomason, gave birth to four children. While the couple were estranged in 1966, she was found shot to death in her Brentwood home; beside her was the body of her alleged lover, a Yugoslavian actor. It was an apparent murder and suicide.
A year later, Rooney began a three-month marriage to Margaret Lane. She was followed by a secretary, Caroline Hockett — another divorce after five years and one daughter.
In 1978, Rooney, 57, married for the eighth — and apparently last — time. His bride was singer Janice Darlene Chamberlain, 39. Their marriage lasted longer than the first seven combined.
After a lifetime of carrying on, he became a devoted Christian and member of the Church of Religious Science. He settled in suburban Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles. In 2011, Rooney was in the news again when he testified before Congress about abuse of the elderly, alleging that he was left powerless by a family member who took and misused his money.
"I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated," Rooney told a special Senate committee considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens. "But above all, when a man feels helpless, it's terrible."