Gary Susman
March 15, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

No one can accuse Andy Rooney of mellowing in his old age. Three weeks ago, responding to the controversy over Mel Gibson’s ”The Passion of the Christ” — which Gibson has suggested was actually directed by the Holy Spirit working through him — Rooney told ”60 Minutes” viewers that God had spoken to him as well and told him that Gibson struck Him as a ”wacko” and ”a real nut case.” That parody drew some 30,000 responses, a record unmatched by any segment in the news magazine’s 36 years on the air, Rooney said. ”I think the mail was a good indication of how bitterly divided our country is right now,” Rooney said on Sunday’s edition. ”I hope I?m not contributing to that — even though I?m right and everyone else is wrong.”

Most of the missives were negative, a CBS statement said. Rooney read some of the colorful screeds on the air, including one that called him an ”asinine, bottom-dwelling, numb-skulled, low-life, slimy, sickening, gutless, spineless, ignorant, pot-licking, cowardly pathetic little weasel.” One of many that called the 85-year-old commentator old and out of touch came from fellow TV pundit Bill O’Reilly, who said he thought Rooney was ”at the end of the road.” Responding to the Fox News Channel host, Rooney said: ”That wasn?t nice, Bill. I didn?t get old on purpose, it just happened. If you?re lucky, it could happen to you.”

Rooney concluded: ”Most of us believe everyone has a right to his own opinion — as long as it agrees with ours.” He said that, on a future broadcast, he might read some of the positive responses, though we imagine they won’t be as entertaining.

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