'Golden Girl' Rue McClanahan dies

Actress had heart bypass surgery in 2009; died of a stroke

Rue McClanahan, the veteran actress who won an Emmy for playing the saucy Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on "The Golden Girls," died early Thursday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital of a stroke. She was 76.

She had undergone treatment for breast cancer in 1997 and later lectured to cancer support groups on "aging gracefully." She had heart bypass surgery last year.

"Golden Girls" ran from 1985-92 on NBC and was a hit from the beginning, starting off at No. 1 in the Nielsens. The foursome -- which also included Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty -- delighted audiences.

McClanahan earned four Emmy noms for "Golden Girls," winning in 1987. She also was nominated for three Golden Globes for her performance as the sex-crazed Blanche.

She also played Blanche in three other series: one episode each of "Nurses" and "Empty Nest" -- both of which preceded "Golden Girls" -- and as a regular on "The Golden Palace," which also starred Getty and White.

McClanahan first drew strong TV notices in "All in the Family," on which she played Vivian Cavender Harmon, the dithery neighbor of Maude's (Arthur). She reprised that character on the spinoff, "Maude," which ran from 1973-78.

After "Maude's" cancellation, McClanahan starred in the short-lived series "Apple Pie," playing a lonely hairdresser who acquires a family through the classified ads. The show ran only three episodes. More successfully, she followed up with "Mama's Family" (1983-85), on which she played Fran Crowley, a tightly wound reporter.

During "Golden Girls," she also performed on the Los Angeles stage: "Picnic" at the Ahmanson Theatre and "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" at the Back Alley. For the latter, she received two Drama-Logue Awards and a Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Award nomination.

She also performed in many TV movies, including "The Little Match Girl," "The Man in the Brown Suit," "Take My Daughters."

She received a lifetime achievement honor in 2009 when she was honored at the with the presentation "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

More recently, McClanahan toured with a one-woman show based on her autobiography, "My First Five Husbands and the Ones Who Got Away," which was published in 2007.

Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan on Feb. 21, 1934, in Healdton, Okla., she learned dance as a child. During high school, she ran her own dance studio while performing at area venues.

She majored in drama at the University of Tulsa. After receiving her degree, McClanahan moved to New York to study at the Metropolitan School of Ballet and studied acting with Ute Hagen.

She made her acting debut in "Inherit the Wind" at the Erie Playhouse in Pennsylvania. She began acting off-Broadway in 1957 then headed to Los Angeles, where she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse. She joined Theatre East and mixed stage with TV and film roles.

She was cast in three low-budget movies, beginning in 1961: "Angry Beach," "The Grass Eater" and "The Rotten Apple." She guest-starred on such series as "Route 66," "Empire" and "Burke's Law."

During the late '60s and early '70s, McClanahan made intermittent movie performances, including "They Might Be Giants," "Some of My Best Friends Are ..." and "The Pursuit of Happiness."

She also acted on the soap operas "Another World" and "The People Next Door."

During the period, McClanahan also performed on the New York stage. She was the first performer to play Lady McBird in the drama "McBird!" which debuted in 1967. The play ran for 386 performances. In 1969, she made her Broadway debut in the musical "Jimmy Shine," starring Dustin Hoffman.

She attracted attention in such comedic fare as "Who's Happy Now?" a comedy set in a Texas town, for which she won an Obie Award.

While performing on the L.A. stage, she was noticed by Norman Lear, who cast her for a role on "All in the Family," where she made her debut in 1971.

Her credits on the New York stage also include "Dark of the Moon," "Dylan," "God Says There Is No Peter Ott," "Hogan's Goat" and "The Rimers of Eldritch."

She was married and divorced five times: Tom Bish, Norman Hartweg, Peter DeMaio, Gus Fisher and Tom Keel. She had a son, Mark, with Bish.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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