Emmy-winning comedy writer Kevin Rooney died at his home on July 19 after a long battle with diabetes and end-stage renal failure. He was 71.
Rooney wrote Jay Leno’s first comedy special, Jay Leno and the American Dream. He also worked on Leno’s “What’s my beef?” rants for Late Night with David Letterman in the 80s.
“He was the greatest muse a comedian could ever have,” said Leno, who met Rooney on The Improv. “I’ve gotten so much material through conversations with Kevin. The first time I saw him I thought, ‘Oh boy, this guy is really good.’ It’s a real voice. There are no tricks. He had no catch phrase. There was no funny look. When times were tough, they threw out the slogan or funny look. Kevin had none of that.”
Leno continued: “I don’t know anyone who thought they were better than Kevin Rooney. When Kevin took the stage, we all stepped inside. Me, Seinfeld, Larry Miller. At the end of the evening we all said, ‘Rooney’s story was really funny.’
“We were all genuinely happy when he was successful. He was a man who deserved it, a unique voice. Never distracted from anyone else. It was that classic New England sarcastic voice. But there was a humanity behind it. Even when he said the most sarcastic. He will be greatly missed.”
In 1977, Rooney accidentally went on stage for the first time to do stand-up comedy at El Brookman’s in Washington DC and had a pitcher of beer poured over his head. He considered becoming a teacher, then took another swing at stand-up comedy, moving to New York City and then Los Angeles, where he became a regular at the Improv.
Rooney has performed all over the country and appeared regularly on The Tonight Show, letterman and The A-List. Rooney started writing sitcoms in the 90s, starting with The Golden Palace and then The naked truth and Boston Common.
In 1989 he played Ira in When Harry Met Sally for director Rob Reiner.
But it was writing the “rants” for HBO’s The Dennis Miller Showfor which he won two Emmys in a row.
In the early 2000s, Rooney went on to create pilots, writing for: politically incorrectbefore returning to sitcoms with My wife and children, brothers and ’till death. He had co-EP credits on My wife and ’till death and a credit for advisory producers on brothers.
It was during this time that he became a mentor to many comics and writers, including Judd Apatow opening his Master Class series on Kevin.
“Kevin Rooney was a viscous funny comedian, writer and political satirist. More importantly, he was an incredibly kind friend and generous mentor to so many in our community,” said Apatow.
Rooney met and married singer/actress/writer Carole Raphaelle Davis in the late 1990s, and the couple happily split their time between Nice, France and the Hollywood Hills, advocating for animal rights, eating delicious vegan meals and battling Kevin’s diabetes together.
Kevin and Carole, or “The Raging Rooneys,” as they were better known, always kept at least four adopted dogs, and if one came along, they would rescue another homeless dog. In support of Carole’s work to abolish puppy mills, Kevin coined the phrase “Adopt Don’t Shop” for her pet store protests. The phrase, which has become part of the lexicon, has helped to pass puppy laws in more than 200 cities.
Rooney continued to write daily and posted poignant comedic commentary on Facebook.
He is survived by Carole, his sister Rebecca and his brother Matthew. His dogs Bugsy and Micheline will also miss him, as will many in the comedy community.