Most actors and actresses would love to have a noteworthy role as a regular cast member on a successful television show. Actress Rue McClanahan had juicy roles on more than three popular TV programs. Best known for her iconic portrayals of ditzy characters like Vivian Cavender Harmon on “Maude” and Blanche Devereaux on “The Golden Girls,” as well as for her portrayal of uptight Fran Crowley on “Mama’s Family,” Rue McClanahan died on June 3, 2010 of a stroke at a hospital in New York after she suffered a massive stroke on Monday. (TMZ) Since she died at 1:00 AM, some reports list the date of death as June 2, 2010. She was 76.
“She passed away at 1 a.m. this morning,” her manager, Barbara Lawrence, told People. “She had a massive stroke.” Lawrence added that McClanahan “had her family with her. She went in peace.”
Rue McClanahan – Career
Rue McClanahan was born February 21, 1934 in Oklahoma where she grew up, majoring in theater in high school. By 1957, she was acting in theater off Broadway and made her Broadway debut in 1969. Her first big break was landing a guest-starring appearance on “Another World” which turned into a role which lasted longer than a year. After more soap opera work, she landed the first of three roles for which she would achieve celebrity status when she assumed the role of Maude’s (Bea Arthur) best friend, Vivian Harmon in “Maude” which ran from 1972 to 1978. In 1983, she joined the cast of “Mama’s Family” for its first season. Her character Fran Crowley was killed off at the end of the first season so she could join what is arguably her best role as Blanche Devereaux on “The Golden Girls” — the role for which I will remember her the best.
Rue McClanahan – “The Golden Girls”
“The Golden Girls,” which ran from 1985 until 1992, was a quirky comedy that accomplished the unbelievable – made the lives of four single retired women interesting, provocative and downright funny. Rue McClanahan shone as “frisky” eye-batting Southern belle Blanche Devereaux. Although I often found her geriatric promiscuity disturbing, the role of Blanche Devereaux did much to advance the idea that older women can be sexy and alluring. The closer I get to that age, the more I appreciate that concept. “The Golden Girls” still remains popular around the world today through reruns and on DVD.
Rue McClanahan – “The Golden Palace”
After seven successful seasons, “The Golden Girls” spawned the spin-off “The Golden Palace” for one season from 1992-93 starring Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Estelle Getty, Don Cheadle, and Cheech Marin.
Rue McClanahan – Recent Career
Her comedic timing was usually impeccable, and let’s face it, she looked pretty good at any age. McClanahan continued acting with roles on TV and in movies like The Fighting Temptations, Starship Troopers, and the Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau movie Out to Sea, as well as theater and cable shows through 2008.
According to her 2007 autobiography, My First Five Husbands … and the Ones Who Got Away, one of McClanahan’s proudest moments was getting a letter from Tennessee Williams about her performance as Caitlin Thomas, the poet’s wife in Sidney Michaels’s play “Dylan.” “Your work is that rare combination of earthiness and lapidary polish,” Williams wrote, “that quality being utterly common and utterly noble. Frippery combined with fierceness.”
Rue McClanahan – Health Issues
In 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer. While she completely recovered from that, she had bypass surgery in November of 2009 and suffered a minor stroke during recovery in January 2010.
The Golden Girls
Her co-stars Beatrice “Bea” Arthur died of cancer last year, and Estelle Getty passed away in 2008. Betty White, 88, is enjoying one of her many comebacks and is the last remaining “Golden Girl.”
Rue McClanahan – “How Quickly Life Can Pass You By”
In “The Golden Girls: Bedtime Story” (1987) Blanche Devereaux talks about the recent funeral of a friend and says: “Y’ know, being at her funeral today made me start thinking about how quickly life can pass you by.” Looking back at the full life, notable career and recent death of Rue McClanahan is not only a reminder of how fleeting life is, but also how rewarding the gift of laughter is she shared with her fans. Laughter is not a bad legacy to leave behind.
Rue McClanahan – Memorials
Married six times, McClanahan is survived by her widower Morrow Wilson, her son from her first marriage Mark Bish, and her sister Dr. Melinda L. McClanahan. According to the LA Times, memorial services will be held in the summer in New York and Los Angeles, and her family has established the Official Rue McClanahan Memorial Page on Facebook.
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