Bea Arthur, the sharp-witted, husky-voiced punch-line machine whose career spanned two hugely influential sitcoms, Maude and Golden Girls, and one infamous Star Wars special, has died.
The Emmy- and Tony-winning actress died of cancer Saturday morning in her Los Angeles home surrounded by her family, according to her rep. She was 86.
Arthur got her start on Broadway, winning her Tony award opposite Angela Lansbury in the original production of Mame.
She parlayed the stage success into a TV career, and she broke out when she appeared on All in the Family as Archie Bunker's no-nonsense sparring partner, Maude. Her recurring role proved so popular that she got her own spinoff. Using humor to tackle hot-button du jour issues like feminism and abortion, Maude ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978 and earned Arthur a Best Actress Emmy.
Arthur gamely sung, danced and wisecracked her way through the regrettable Star Wars Holiday Special before rebounding nicely with perhaps her greatest hit, The Golden Girls, alongside Betty White, Rue McClanahan and the late Estelle Getty, who died last July. The NBC sitcom ranked No. 1 in the Nielsens, running from 1985-1992 and earning Emmys for all four stars.
After the quick cancellation of the spinoff Golden Palace, Arthur still maintained a presence on the tube, appearing in guest roles on Malcolm in the Middle, Futurama and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Born Bernice Frankel ("Beatrice" was her preferred stage name), the actress married and divorced twice. Her first husband was screenwriter, producer and director Robert Alan Arthur. She was also married to director Gene Saks, with whom she adopted two sons: Matthew, 47, an actor, and Daniel, 44, a set designer.
(Originally published April 25, 2009, at 1 p.m. PT)