Kevin Rooney, Standup Comedian From ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,’ Dead at 71

by Caitlin Berard

Comedy icon Kevin Rooney has died at the age of 71, as confirmed by his wife Carole Raphaelle Davis and former assistant Jay Mandyam. His tragic passing came on July 9 following a long battle with diabetes and end-stage renal failure.

The Emmy-award-winning comedian contribute to some of the most beloved talk shows of all time, including The Dennis Miller Show and The Tonight Show. During his legendary career, Kevin Rooney formed a particularly close bond with talk show host Jay Leno, whom he helped create the 1986 comedy special, Jay Leno and the American Dream.

The two shared such as strong admiration for each other, in fact, that upon learning of his passing, Jay Leno penned a heartfelt statement about his longtime friend. “He was the greatest muse a comedian could ever have,” Leno told The Hollywood Reporter via Jay Mandyam. “I got so much material just through conversations with Kevin.”

“The first time I saw him, I thought, ‘Oh boy, this guy is really good,'” he continued. “It’s a real voice. There’s no gimmicks. He didn’t have a catchphrase. There wasn’t a funny look. When times were rough, they throw out the catchphrase or funny look. Kevin didn’t have any of that.”

“I don’t know anybody who thought they were better than Kevin Rooney. When Kevin took the stage, we’d all step inside. Me, [Jerry] Seinfeld, Larry Miller. At the end of the night, we’d all say, ‘Rooney’s story was really funny,'” Leno shared.

“We were all genuinely happy when he had success,” he added sorrowfully. “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 humanity behind it. Even when he said the most sarcastic thing. He will be greatly missed.”

Fellow Comedian Judd Apatow Mourns the Death of Kevin Rooney

In addition to his appearances on late-night TV and assistance with Jay Leno’s first comedy special, Kevin Rooney also helped bring to life beloved sitcoms My Wife and Kids, The Naked Truth, and The Golden Palace, the spinoff of the celebrated classic TV series The Golden Girls.

During his time as a TV writer, he attracted many budding comedians and writers hoping for a mentor to guide them through their early days in Hollywood. One such comedian was none other than award-winning director Judd Apatow, who was heartbroken to learn of Rooney’s passing.

“So sad to hear about Kevin Rooney,” he wrote on Twitter. “He was hilariously funny. His material was so smart and biting. He wrote a lot of great material for Dennis Miller and Jay Leno. When I first started he was so kind and taught me so much about stand up and writing. A legendary person. RIP.”