reminiscence by LEO E. LAURENCE, J.D.
Copyright © 2011 by Leo E. Laurence for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Andy Rooney, who produced weekly CBS commentaries on 60 Minutes about the absurdities of everyday life, was practically deified when he died at 92 on Nov. 4th, just weeks after his farewell broadcast. CBS News said he died of complications after minor surgery.
He had written and aired 1,097 original essays on final broadcast on October 2, and had worked for CBS News for 62 years.
The network had hired me in 1996 to work on its coverage of the Republican National Convention in San Diego.
One day while walking in a secure section behind the convention center, I found myself walking behind a hump-backed old man wearing a suit that looked like he had slept in it.
I particularly noticed that his shoes were so worn out that the old man was literally walking on the sides of the heels. I thought he looked homeless … but I figured a homeless person couldn’t be inside the security zone limited to only CBS News personnel.
However, everything about this man looked poor, even his unkempt hair.
Out of curiosity, I followed him right into the huge tent used by CBS News to feed its entire crew. I still hadn’t seen his face.
Not until we got to the long, food line did I realize that I had been following the world-renowned Andy Rooney. Oddly, everyone was ignoring him.
After we got our food, he sat alone at a table and I asked if I could join him.
“Of course,” he said, amicably.
His clothes were a mess. He sat bent over his food, looking even older than the 79 he was.
Though I was 65 at the time, he treated me like a grandson over lunch.
Usually when meeting a famous person, I’m the one asking questions as a journalist. But Rooney was filled with questions for me. He asked about my family and my life, seeming more interested in me than I was about him.
Whenever I asked him a question, he managed to twist the answer around to talk about my life, not his.
Somehow, he made me feel special, as if the world revolved around me, rather than him being the superstar.
Yet I was stunned by his homeless look.
During our casual, lunchtime conversation, I was especially surprised when he interrupted the flow of our chat with an admission: “While you don’t look Gay, I guess you are and I want to apologize for a commentary I made in 1990.
“I’m not homophobic, and I made a big mistake by comparing homosexual marriages with smoking and drinking that can lead to premature death.”
That surprised me. He was able to read me so correctly, and he was still uncomfortable with a broadcast that he had made so many years ago.
He had been given a three-month suspension by CBS News for that commentary.
I still remember that he looked homeless to me.