Before Mickey Rooney unexpectedly died, he was looking for his final resting place.
The 93-year-old actor, who was in good health when he died during a nap on April 6, was considering Los Angeles’ Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many A-list celebrities are buried, or a cemetery for U.S. veterans.
What he no longer wanted, his conservator Michael Augustine told NBC News, was to spend eternity in a family plot in Westlake Village, north of Los Angeles, where he had moved his mother’s remains, and where his estranged wife and stepson would also eventually be laid to rest.
But those wishes were not expressed in the actor’s will. So, instead of arranging for his funeral and memorial service, his family has been squabbling about where he to bury him. On one side is his wife of 35 years, Janice Rooney, who wants to inter him in the pre-arranged family plot. On the other are those who have been looking out for Rooney the past three years, as he separated from his wife and charged her son and his wife with elder abuse.
Lawyers for both sides told NBC News that they are trying to arrive at an agreement before a Friday hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court. Janice Rooney’s attorney Yevegeny Belous told NBC News that she felt blindsided by the claims that Rooney had changed his burial plans. The issue has only served to further highlight the sad end to the life of one of Hollywood’s greatest entertainers.
“This is all terrible,” said Augustine who became Rooney’s conservator three years ago and will serve as the executor of his will. “He no longer wanted to be buried there, especially not with his stepson. What we intended to do was buy Mickey’s new plots and enter new arrangements but we did not have the money to do so. Before we could put this plan into effect, he died unexpectedly.”
Rooney’s new will, signed last month, revealed his fortune was gone. The actor left his estate of only $18,000 to his primary caretakers: his stepson, Mark Aber, and his wife Charlene. The will, obtained by NBC News, disinherits Janice Rooney and his nine children. But the couple’s 2012 marital separation settlement named Janice as the beneficiary of his pensions and Social Security, giving her $8,000 a month, Augustine said.
“Mickey had just started to work again,” Augustine said. “He filmed a cameo in the sequel to ‘Night at the Museum’ and he did a voiceover on ‘American Dad.’ He was raising the money to make his arrangements.”
Augustine and his lawyers asked a Los Angeles judge for an emergency order Tuesday to bar Janice Rooney or her son from claiming Rooney’s remains from the mortuary before Friday’s hearing. Her lawyer, Belous, told NBC News that Janice Rooney only learned of her husband’s new burial wishes the night he died, and was willing to discuss other options.
“Legally speaking, Jan is the only person who has legal authority at this point to arrange the disposition of Mickey’s remains,” Belous said. “What we have always tried to do this whole week, and throughout this controversy, is to honor Mickey’s wishes and to make sure he has a burial befitting him as an individual and monumental figure. We are in the process of working out some arrangements to reach an amicable end to this without having to have litigation. Everybody has the same interest at heart at this point: to make sure Mickey’s memory is honored, to make sure that he gets a proper burial, and to not drag this out in a courtroom.”
Rooney and his 74-year-old wife had not seen each other in about a year.
“Jan is having a hard time,” Belous said. “This is the passing of her husband and she has her own health issues to deal with. She’s trying to make all of this work. This all was a complete surprise to her. All we were doing was operating under the wishes he expressed before and a pre-paid burial contract, along with the fact that he moved his mother out there.”
In 2011, Rooney sought a voluntary conservatorship and moved out of his home to live with Janice’s other son, Mark. Rooney separated from his wife because she sided with her biological son, Christopher Aber, whom Rooney sued in 2011 for elder abuse, Augustine said. The lawsuit was settled in October, after the Abers admitted to taking $2.8 million from the actor’s accounts.
“Mickey hated Aber,” Augustine said. “In Janice’s defense, she was in a tough position. She was in between her husband and her son. But I think she made the wrong choice. She did not align herself with Mickey and that sent him into orbit. This was all really sad. But I tell you, Mickey was a courageous guy.”
Augustine and Belous both said they are hopeful funeral and burial arrangements will be agreed upon before Fridays’ hearing.
“It doesn’t make sense to hold Mickey’s body hostage,” Belous said. “That seems inappropriate. He should be honored and he should be respected, and we think it’s completely unreasonable to turn this into a media circus.”