Goodbye, Rue McClanahan: The Life and Times of the 'Golden Girls'

Rue McClanahan, the Emmy-winning actress who brought the sexually liberated Southern belle Blanche Devereaux to life on the hit TV series "The Golden Girls," died of a stroke today at age 76.

McClanahan had a long and successful acting career but was best known for playing Blanche.

"Golden Girls" aimed to show "that when people mature, they add layers," McClanahan told The New York Times in 1985. "They don't turn into other creatures. The truth is we all still have our child, our adolescent and your young woman living in us."

McClanahan is the third "Golden Girl" to die in recent years, leaving Betty White, who played Rose Nylund, as the last remaining cast member of the iconic show, which ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992.

Rue McClanahan

Born in Healdton, Okla., McClanahan got her big break in 1972 in CBS's "Maude," starring future co-star Bea Arthur. Her portrayal of Blanche Devereaux, an unapologetic man-eater with a charming Southern drawl on "Golden Girls," launched her to stardom.

After the show was canceled in 1992, McClanahan appeared in the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau movie "Out to Sea" and as a teacher in the satirical sci-fi film "Starship Troopers." She also played "Madame Morrible" in "Wicked," Broadway's hit prequel to the "Wizard of Oz," and played the mother of a drag queen in the Logo comedy "Sordid Lives: The Series."

In 1997, McClanahan underwent treatment for breast cancer and later lectured to cancer support groups. She had heart bypass surgery in 2009, and suffered a minor stroke earlier this year while still recovering. She was 76.

Bea Arthur

Arthur died of cancer in April 2009, following a long career that included major success on Broadway and television. Before her Emmy-winning turn as acerbic divorcee Dorothy Zbornak on "The Golden Girls," Arthur played the matchmaker in the original Broadway production of "Fiddler on the Roof." She was the star of the groundbreaking 1970s TV series "Maude, which tackled controversial topics such as abortion and drug-use, and made Arthur an icon of the women's liberation movement. In 2002, she returned to Broadway to star in a show based on her life and career.

Betty White

White, born in Oak Park, Ill., won six Emmys in her 70-year career. She is best known for her memorable performances as Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and lovably naive Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls." In the past few years, her star soared again, and in May 2010, she became the oldest person to ever host "Saturday Night Live."

Estelle Getty

Getty, who brought wise-cracking "Golden Girl" Sophia Petrillo to life, died in July 2008 of natural causes, three days before what would have been her 85th birthday. Born in New York City, Getty started out in Yiddish theater before playing the Sicilian mother of Bea Arthur's "Golden Girls" character, which won Getty an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Getty was heavily made up to look older than Arthur, who was actually the older of the two. In 2002, Getty stopped making public appearances due to failing health, and it was revealed a few years later that she had Lewy body dementia.

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