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Rue McClanahan dies at age 76

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Rue McClanahan, best known for playing a sex-obsessed Southerner of a certain age in the 1985-92 sitcom The Golden Girls, died early this morning after suffering a massive stroke. She was 76. McClanahan had a minor stroke last November after undergoing heart bypass surgery.

Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdtown, Okla., the actress spent much of her early career in live theater. Her performance as Betty in the 1969 Off Broadway show The Golden Fleece caught the attention of All in the Family creator Norman Lear, who cast her in a guest role on the CBS comedy as one half of a swinger couple. This led to the actress’ first big TV gig as Vivian, the flustered neighbor of Bea Arthur’s Maude on Lear’s spin-off of All in the Family. Maude ran from 1972-78 and drew attention for its boundary-pushing story lines dealing with topics like abortion and plastic surgery.

But McClanahan truly became part of TV history when she landed the role of Blanche Devereaux on NBC’s The Golden Girls, cast alongside Arthur, Betty White, and Estelle Getty. The series became a huge hit for the network and garnered Emmys for all of the women, including one for McClanahan in 1987 (she was nominated four times over the run of the series). When Arthur left the show in 1992, McClanahan and the remaining castmates moved to a new series called The Golden Palace, which lasted one season.

McClanahan was married five times; she had been with her last husband, Morrow Wilson, since 1997. After The Golden Girls left the air, she returned to the stage in the Broadway hit Wicked in 2005 and had guest roles on series like Law & Order and Murphy Brown as well as the films Starship Troopers and The Fighting Temptations. But nothing will ever top her role on Girls. McClanahan told EW in 2005, “I knew that I was doing something revolutionary in its quality, but I had no idea of the effect that it was going to have.â€

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