Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White, Golden Girls

Ron Galella/

The Golden Girls made a woman of Rue McClanahan.

McClanahan—who earned an Emmy along with, by her own assessment, a measure of courage playing Blanche Devereaux, the lustiest member of the sitcom classic's retiree quartet—died early today from what was termed a massive stroke. She was 76.

"She had her family with her. She went in peace," her manager, Barbara Lawrence, said.

Her death leaves Betty White as the sole surviving star of the beloved 1985-1992 TV comedy. Estelle Getty died in 2008; Bea Arthur passed away in 2009. 

The Golden Girls itself is immortal, as McClanahan herself observed.

"It started running in reruns in 1988, and it hasn't stopped since," she told the Gay & Lesbian Times in 2008. "It dawned on me then that this might be an ongoing proposition."

Born Feb. 21, 1934, in Oklahoma, McClanahan was a wife and mother before becoming an actress at about age 30. In the beginning, she worked primarily in the New York theater. She came to Hollywood in the 1970s, tempted by roles in producer Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcoms All in the Family and Maude. On the latter, she played the neighbor and friend of Arthur's titular character. 

In 1985, at age 51, McClanahan became the youngest "girl" on The Golden Girls. The show was an immediate hit, as popular with critics as with families who found themselves housebound on a pre-Internet Saturday night.

Originally, Blanche was to be played by White, who'd had man-eating experience as insatiable TV chef Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then it was suggested White instead give it a go as the show's most naive character.

"So I'm Rose and she's Blanche," White said of McClanahan to the King Features Syndicate in 1985. "And as she said so perfectly the other day, 'I'm playing you and you're playing me!' "

For McClanahan, the new role took some getting used to.

"Blanche is extremely self-confident," McClanahan once told the Los Angeles Daily News. "I have found that helps me to have more self-confidence. It really has. If she can think like that, why don't I think like that?"

McClanahan did seem to share a certain spunk with Blanche—by the time the series premiered, McClanahan had been married and divorced five times. But according to McClanahan, her repeated trips down the aisle indicated anything but confidence.

"It was a quiet kind of desperation," she told TV Guide in 1990. "I always thought I had to have a man."

Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, Betty White, Golden Girls


McClanahan wrote about her exes and other men, including Benson star Robert Guillaume, in the 2007 memoir My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away. As the title indicated, McClanahan had given marriage one more try in 1997 to writer-actor Morrow Wilson.

After The Golden Girls, McClanahan starred with Getty and White in its one-season-only spinoff, The Golden Palace, and later returned to Broadway.

The actress suffered a minor stroke in January while convalescing from heart bypass surgery. Morrow told the tabloids that McClanahan asked him to move out of their New York apartment following the bypass.

To the end, Blanche stayed with McClanahan and vice versa.

"People always ask me if I'm like Blanche," McClanahan said tongue in cheek to the Cape Cod Times in 2007. "Well, Blanche was an oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern belle from Atlanta—and I'm not from Atlanta."

(Originally published June 3, 2010, at 8:42 a.m. PT)


Take a moment to remember some of Hollywood's other Fallen Stars from this year.

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