For the third year in a row, we have lost a Golden Girl. Estelle Getty died in July 2008 and Bea Arthur just passed in April 2009. Now, Rue McClanahan is now gone at age 76 but has left us with a lot of great memories.
Born in Oklahoma, McClanahan’s father was a road builder and moved the family around as he went from one project to the next. As a result, she’d lived in six towns before she was eight years old.
After attending University of Tulsa, McClanahan moved to New York where she worked as a clerk while looking for stage work. She landed parts off-Broadway in the 1950’s and made it to Broadway in the late 1960’s.
On television, she won acclaim by playing a wicked nanny on the soap opera Another World. In an episode of Golden Girls many years later, when the ladies are all sick with the flu, McClanahan’s character insists on watching Another World.
She went on to play Bea Arthur’s dim-witted best friend, Vivian, on Maude for six years and then played Aunt Fran for the first two seasons of Mama’s Family, alongside Betty White. From there, McClanahan went on to play sex-hungry Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls.
When they were initially casting the show, White was likely going to play Blanche and McClanahan would have played ditzy Rose — essentially playing older versions of their Maude and Mary Tyler Moore characters. Director Jay Sandrich suggested they switch and the result was comic magic. According to McClanahan, Arthur wasn’t interested in the show until she read the pilot script and heard about the “reverse” casting.
The Golden Girls lasted for seven seasons on NBC. Getty, White, and McClanahan played the same roles for another year on CBS in The Golden Palace. She won an Emmy Award in 1987 for the role.
McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and survived thanks to five months of chemotherapy. She lectured on the subject for breast-cancer support groups.
In later years, she guest-starred on a number of TV series like Touched by an Angel, Blue’s Clues (as Steve’s grandmother), Murphy Brown, and Wonderfalls. She was also a regular on Sordid Lives: The Series.
On stage, she played Reverend Mother in Nunsense, and in 2005 took over the role as Madam Morrible in the hit Broadway musical Wicked. A lifetime supporter of animals rights and a vegetarian, McClanahan’s autobiography, My First Five Husbands..And the Ones Who Got Away, was released in 2007.
McClanahan underwent a triple bypass late last year and had a minor stroke while recovering. In March, White reported that her friend was feeling better and that her speech had returned to normal. McClanahan died at a New York hospital early this morning. She suffered another stroke and a brain hemorrhage.
Wed five previous times, she married actor Morrow Wilson in 1997. McClanahan is survived by her husband and one son, Mark Bish, from a previous marriage. She will also be remembered by countless fans for the hours of laughter she has given.
What do you think? What memories do you have of watching Rue McClanahan?