New York—Rue McClanahan, the Emmy-winning actress whobrought the sexually liberated Southern belle Blanche Devereaux tolife on the hit TV series "The Golden Girls," has died. She was 76.
Her manager, Barbara Lawrence, said McClanahan died Thursday at1 a.m. at New York-Presbyterian Hospital of a brain hemorrhage.
McClanahan had an active career in off-Broadway and regionalstages in the 1960s before she was tapped for TV in the 1970s forthe key best-friend character on the hit series "Maude," starring Beatrice Arthur. After that series ended in 1978, McClanahan landedthe role as Aunt Fran on "Mama's Family" in 1983.
But her most loved role came in 1985 when she co-starred withArthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty in "The Golden Girls," arunaway hit that broke the sitcom mold by focusing on the foiblesof four aging - and frequently eccentric - women living together inMiami.
"Golden Girls" aimed to show "that when people mature, theyadd layers," she told The New York Times in 1985. "They don'tturn into other creatures. The truth is we all still have ourchild, our adolescent, and your young woman living in us."
Blanche, who called her father "Big Daddy," was a frequenttarget of roommates Dorothy, Rose and the outspoken Sophia (Getty),who would fire off zingers at Blanche such as, "Your life's anopen blouse."
Fellow "Golden Girl" Betty White called McClanahan a close anddear friend.
"I treasured our relationship," said White, who was working in Los Angeles on the set of her TV Land comedy "Hot in Cleveland"on Thursday. "It hurts more than I even thought it would, ifthat's even possible."
McClanahan snagged an Emmy for her work on the show in 1987. Inan Associated Press interview that year, McClanahan said Blanchewas unlike any other role she had ever played.
"Probably the closest I've ever done was Blanche DuBois in 'AStreetcar Named Desire' at the Pasadena Playhouse," she said. "Ithink, too, that's where the name came from, although my characteris not a drinker and not crazy."
Her Blanche Devereaux, she said, "is in love with life and sheloves men. I think she has an attitude toward women that'scompetitive. She is friends with Dorothy and Rose, but if she hasenough provocation she becomes competitive with them. I thinkbasically she's insecure. It's the other side of the Don Juansyndrome."
Vicki Lawrence worked with McClanahan on "Mama's Family."Lawrence called her "a consummate professional, an actor'sactor."
"It was my good fortune to get to work with her on the firstseason and a half of 'Mama's Family.' When she got stolen away from'Mama's Family' to do 'Golden Girls,' I cried," Lawrence said inan e-mail.
After "The Golden Girls" was canceled in 1992, McClanahan,White and Getty reprised their roles in a short-lived spinoff,"Golden Palace."
McClanahan continued working in television, on stage and infilm, appearing in the Jack Lemmon- Walter Matthau vehicle "Out toSea" and as the biology teacher in "Starship Troopers."
She stepped in to portray Madame Morrible, the craftyheadmistress, for a time in " Wicked," Broadway's long-running"Wizard of Oz" prequel.
In 2008, McClanahan appeared in the Logo comedy "Sordid Lives:The Series," playing the slightly addled, elderly mother of aninstitutionalized drag queen.
During production, McClanahan was recovering from 2007 surgeryon her knee. It didn't stop her from filming a sex scene in whichthe bed broke, forcing her to hang on to a windowsill to avoidtumbling off.
McClanahan was born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Okla., tobuilding contractor William McClanahan and his wife, DredaRheua-Nell, a beautician. She graduated with honors from theUniversity of Tulsa with a degree in German and theater arts.
McClanahan's acting career began on the stage. According to a1985 Los Angeles Times profile, she appeared at the Pasadena(Calif.) Playhouse, studied in New York with Uta Hagen and HaroldClurman, and worked in soaps and on the stage.
She won an Obie - the off-Broadway version of the Tony - in 1970for "Who's Happy Now," playing the "other woman" in a familydrama written by Oliver Hailey. She reprised the role in a 1975television version; in a review, The New York Times described hercharacter as "an irrepressible belle given to frequent bouts of`wooziness' and occasional bursts of shrewdness."
She had appeared only sporadically on television until producerNorman Lear tapped her for a guest role on "All in the Family" in1971.
She went from there to a regular role in the "All in theFamily" spinoff "Maude," playing Vivian, the neighbor and bestfriend to Arthur in the starring role.
When Arthur died in April 2009, McClanahan recalled that she hadfelt constrained by "Golden Girls" during the later years of itsrun. "Bea liked to be the star of the show. She didn't really liketo do that ensemble playing," McClanahan said.
McClanahan was married six times: Tom Bish, with whom she had ason, Mark Bish; actor Norman Hartweg; Peter D'Maio; Gus Fisher; andTom Keel. She married husband Morrow Wilson on Christmas Day in1997.
She called her 2007 memoir "My First Five Husbands ... And theOnes Who Got Away."
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributedto this report.