In Memory of Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney died today, and while it wasn’t terribly surprising (he was 92) it was still sad.

To many people, Andy had become a punchline. He was the cranky old guy with the crazy eyebrows that complained about everything.

But to me, Andy was an inspiration. He was the first writer that I ever truly loved. Even as a child I would read every book and column that he wrote. I tuned into the last 10 minutes of “60 Minutes” each week just to catch Andy.

I loved how Andy could wring so much humor and insight out of even the simplest things: a bar of soap, fruit, woodworking, technology. Andy possessed the rare ability to communicate ideas that connected with everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs. While on the surface it seemed like he was merely complaining about the inconsequential, in truth he was a trenchant observer of the American post-war experience. His essays were as much about how we were changing as a culture as they were about how frustrating it was to find a good repairman.

His writing style was simple, bold and confident. Like Kurt Vonnegut, his ideas were strong enough to stand on their own and they didn’t need to be couched in fancy language designed to impress. He said what he meant, clearly and concisely, and he never talked down or pandered to his audience.

He also, quite admirably, didn’t ever seem to care what his readers thought of him or his work. He detested celebrity and avoided praise in publicity. Andy was the antithesis of today’s facebook society where everyone is chasing “likes”. Andy could give two shits less whether you “liked” him or not.

Andy knew who he was, where he came from, what he loved (his wife and kids, football, woodworking, his Underwood typewriter) and what annoyed him. He said some stupid things (don’t we all) but he always owned up to his mistakes. He never forgot where he came from or the experiences that shaped his life.

His accomplishments far transcend being a old crank on television: he wrote for ‘Stars & Stripes’ during World War II, he helped to launch the era of television journalism, and he became America’s foremost humorist and observer. He always made us laugh, he usually made us think and he frequently made us mad.

A long time ago my Dad once gave me a card that read “To the next Andy Rooney…” Even then I knew that my dream in life was to write funny little essays like my literary hero. But the truth is that no one – especially not me – could ever be the next Andy Rooney. He was truly one-of-a-kind.

Thanks Andy. You were the best.

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