(Adds comment from Janice Rooney's attorney)
By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES, April 9 The estranged wife of actor Mickey Rooney and his estate are locked in a legal tussle over the remains of the late Hollywood movie star, who left an estate of only $18,000, according to court documents.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Steele will decide at a hearing on Friday whether Rooney's remains will be released from an area mortuary to his wife, Janice Rooney, or to his conservator.
The versatile character actor, who was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 1930s, died at age 93 on Sunday from natural causes. He disinherited his wife and all his children in a will dated March 11, leaving his estate to stepson Mark Rooney, who with his wife served as Rooney's caregiver.
Rooney's conservator, Michael Augustine, was granted a court order on Tuesday stopping Janice Rooney from removing the actor's remains from a mortuary in Glendale, California.
Steele also said Augustine could not have Rooney's remains.
Augustine said Rooney wanted to be buried at Los Angeles' Hollywood Forever cemetery, where many Hollywood actors are buried, or at a cemetery for U.S. veterans. Rooney served in the military as an entertainer during World War Two.
He also has a burial plot in Westlake Village, California, where his mother is buried.
"We think we'll be able to cut a deal, a deal being between me and her," Augustine said.
An attorney for Janice Rooney said she had made no attempt to go against Rooney's wishes.
"We are in the process of working with all parties involved to avoid any controversy and litigation," Yevgeny Belous said, adding that neither he nor Janice Rooney had seen Rooney's will until it was filed in court on Tuesday.
LITTLE FROM RESIDUALS
Rooney was wed eight times, including to actress Ava Gardner. In 2011 he testified before a U.S. Senate committee that he had been emotionally and financially abused by family members.
Rooney and his last wife did not live together after 2012. She will receive his Social Security payments, Augustine said.
He earned about $20,000 to $25,000 per year on residuals from his later film work, Augustine said.
The actor was one of the last links to Hollywood's silent era, and he did not earn residuals from classics like 1944's "National Velvet."
"He gets more money from the 'Care Bears' than he does from that," Augustine said, referring to the 1985 animated film in which Rooney voiced the character of Mr. Cherrywood.
In 2011, Rooney sued stepson Christopher Aber and his wife, claiming elder abuse and mismanagement of his funds. Augustine said the couple agreed to a settlement worth millions with Rooney, but the actor's estate has been unable to collect because of Aber's financial troubles.
Rooney is survived by eight children and two stepsons. His son Timothy Rooney died in 2006.
Augustine said Rooney's funeral was expected to be small and attended by family with a larger public tribute planned later.
Rooney starred in the "Andy Hardy" movies as a teen during the Great Depression and acted alongside Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor. (Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Prudence Crowther)