Rue McClanahan, 76

Rue McClanahan dies at 76; Emmy winner starred in 'Golden Girls,' 'Maude'

By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Rue McClanahan, 76, an Emmy Award-winning actress best known for her role as widowed Southern vixen Blanche Devereaux on the popular sitcom "The Golden Girls," died June 3 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She had a brain hemorrhage.

"The Golden Girls," about four feisty, aging women who share a home in Miami, aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. An instant hit, the series won two Emmy awards for best comedy and destroyed the myth that viewers weren't interested in a show about women of a certain age.

" 'Golden Girls' is contrary -- enticingly snide and brittle," wrote The Washington Post's Tom Shales, who deemed the show the best new comedy series of the year in 1985.

Ms. McClanahan was already an accomplished stage and television actress when she landed the role of glamorous Blanche, the vain, man-hungry Golden Girl who purred in a drawl that was, according to Ms. McClanahan, "a cross between British and Southern and cornball." Her unabashed libido provided endless fodder for gags.

"What was your first impression of me?" Ms. McClanahan's Blanche asks ditzy Rose Nylund, played by Betty White.

"I thought you wore too much makeup and were a slut," Rose replies. "I was wrong. You don't wear too much makeup."

Rounding out the cast were Bea Arthur as sarcastic schoolteacher Dorothy Zbornak and Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, an abrasive octogenarian who had suffered a minor stroke that left her without social tact.

All four women won Emmys for outstanding lead actress during the show's run. White, who is enjoying a late-career renaissance, is now the only surviving Golden Girl; Arthur died in 2009 and Getty in 2008.

"The Golden Girls" ended when Arthur decided to leave the show, although it endures in syndication. The remaining trio of actresses attempted a short-lived spinoff, "The Golden Palace," in which their characters ran a South Beach hotel. It was canceled after one season.

Ms. McClanahan continued to appear on stage, including in "The Vagina Monologues" and as Madam Morrible in the long-running Broadway musical "Wicked." She made cameo appearances in television series including "Law and Order" and in films such as "Starship Troopers" (1987) and "The Fighting Temptations" (2003).

She was an honorary director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and spoke to cancer-support groups, having survived a bout with breast cancer in the late 1990s. She designed a clothing line, "A Touch of Rue." And she never stopped acting. In 2008, she played the matriarch of a colorful Texas family in the cable television series "Sordid Lives."

"I have several steamy sex scenes -- they're wild and raucous," she said in an interview with Chicago's Windy City Times. "I suppose Blanche would probably approve."

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