The Respect We Owe Our Old People

The Respect We Owe Our Old People

You know, this week I was looking at the news web sites and discovered something which made my blood boil.

It was this; reports that 90 year old acting legend Mickey Rooney has been granted a temporary(?) restraining order against his step-son Christopher Alber, who’s mother is Rooney’s wife of 33 years, Jan (nee Chamberlin). 54 year old Alber has allegedly been “withholding food and medicine and interfering with his finances” and even, I quote;

“Mr. Alber is verbally abusive. He yells and screams at Mickey. Mickey is effectively a prisoner in his own home.”

A similar report from the New York Daily News added that,

“He threatens, intimidates, bullies and harasses Mickey. Mickey is extremely fearful that Chris will become physically threatening against Mickey and may even attempt to kidnap Mickey from his home.”

It’s also alleged that Aber confiscated Rooney’s passport and other identification cards. It’s difficult to surmise the whys and wherefores of this… but it makes my blood boil nonetheless.

I first encountered Mickey Rooney in the Christmas season of 2007 when he came to Sunderland to play Cinderella’s father in his British pantomime debut. His wife, Jan, was the fairy godmother. I will admit that I’d never heard of either of them before I saw the couple on stage; that is, if you don’t count the various comments my mum and her friends made about his past love life (Jan is his eighth wife). Rooney is, quite obviously, more beloved of and known to the generations before mine.

So I come to this issue never having seen a single film or TV show in which Mickey Rooney has starred. Only the pantomime performance, which was particularly memorable; Rooney exuded the image of the kindly old man he was playing. He could barely walk across the stage and spent much of his scenes sat down; and at the end, he delivered a totally off-script plea to the audience to donate generously to the charitable organisation being supported by the pantomime; the name of which was clearly nowhere near as memorable as the plea itself.

But the most enduring memory I have of that Christmas season happened on Christmas morning itself. Mid-way through the service, a couple entered through the side door and sat down in the nearest pew, far away from anyone else.

In a traditionalist church like ours, coming in so late is frowned upon. As the side door is at the front of the church, in full view of everyone in the congregation, the whispers soon started to do their rounds between the pews, tutting at the unknown couple. These were shortly followed by a second, more urgent whisper; “You know who that is, don’t you?”.

As you may have guessed, it was indeed Mickey and Jan Rooney, who happened to be staying in the (only) nearby hotel during the pantomime’s run. It wasn’t until communion that I got to have a look for myself. As it happened, me and my mum were stood next to the Rooneys at the altar, with Mickey on my mum’s right. It’s been a treasured family anecdote ever since that the Hollywood veteran who has appeared alongside such greats as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Eartha Kitt was so scared of my mum that he swapped places with his wife.

Perhaps ‘scared’ is too strong a word and ‘shy’ should take its place. But despite my mum’s continuing complaint of “he ignored me!” every time Mickey Rooney’s name comes up in conversation, this was the most endearingly funny memory of that Christmas. Shortly followed by the sight of our rector in his full robes, flapping down the church drive after the couple who had greeted everyone then neglected to sign the visitor’s book.

However, I think I’ve driven home my point here. In 2007, Mickey Rooney was a shy, frail and sweet old man. It makes me shudder to think that the same man, who turns 91 this year, has had to file a restraining order to prevent his own abuse at the hands of a member of his family. Someone who, despite any family issues, should be respecting his step-father’s dignity and right to live a happy life.

“All I want to do is live a peaceful life, to regain my life and be happy. I pray to God each day to protect us, help us endure, and guide those other senior citizens who are also suffering.”

A public statement made by Mickey Rooney

It should go without saying that no vulnerable old person, regardless of their past actions, family or fame should have to suffer abuse of any kind, let alone the allegations of withholding food and medicine and stealing, which, if true, are actions of abhorrent cruelty.

This is the question that I’m now asking myself :-

If one of the world’s most famous 90 year olds is a victim of abuse, what about the others?

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