Kevin Rooney, a stand-up comedian who won two Emmy awards for his work as a writer on “Dennis Miller Live,” died at his home on July 19 after a battle with diabetes and end-stage renal failure. He was 71 years old.
Rooney’s death was confirmed by his colleague, Jay Mandyam.
“He was a sophisticated raconteur and was a modern-day H.L. Mencken or Schopenhauer,” a statement from Mandyam reads. “As curmudgeonly as he was, he was always the wittiest person in the room and was generous and kind to all.”
Rooney briefly attended Lawrence College in the 1970s before joining the military. In 1977, he began a career in comedy, performing his first stand-up set in Washington, D.C., concluding his act by an act of arguable baptism — pouring a pitcher of beer over his head. Rooney then attended the University of Massachusetts where he studied to become a teacher.
Rooney found his way back to stand-up after moving to New York City, then Los Angeles, becoming a regular at The Improv. There he met Jay Leno, who he collaborated with for the late-night host’s “what’s my beef” segments on “Late Night With David Letterman.” Leno also hired Rooney to write his comedy special “Jay Leno and the American Dream.”
“He was the greatest muse a comedian could ever have,” Leno said of Rooney. “It’s a real voice. There’s no gimmicks. He didn’t have a catch phrase. There wasn’t a funny look. When times were rough, they throw out the catch phrase or funny look. Kevin didn’t have any of that. I don’t know anybody who thought they were better than Kevin Rooney… We were all genuinely happy when he had success. He was a guy who earned it, a unique voice. Never derivative of anyone else. It was that classic New England sarcastic voice. But there was a humanity behind it. Even when he said the most sarcastic thing. He will be greatly missed.”
Rooney continued to perform standup throughout the 20th century, making appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and “The A-List.” He also worked in writers’ rooms for sitcoms, contributing to “The Golden Palace,” “The Naked Truth,” “Boston Common,” “My Wife and Kids,” “Brothers” and “‘Til death.”
Rooney earned two consecutive Emmy awards for contributions to HBO’s “Dennis Miller Live.” He also served as a mentor to many rising comics, including Judd Apatow.
“Kevin Rooney was a viscously funny comedian, writer and political satirist. But more importantly, he was an incredibly kind friend and generous mentor to so many in our community” Apatow said.
In the late 1990s, Rooney married singer, actress and writer Carole Raphaelle Davis. The pair split their time between Nice, France and the Hollywood Hills. The two worked together as fierce animal rights advocates.
Rooney maintained a daily habit of writing through his final years. He hated phonies and former president Donald J. Trump, according to Mandyam’s statement.
Rooney is survived by Davis; his sister, Rebecca; his brother, Matthew; and his dogs, Bugsy and Micheline.