Actress Rue McClanahan got her start in small stage productions including Inherit the Wind at Pennsylvania's Erie Playhouse, soon making her Broadway debut alongside Dustin Hoffman in the 1969 musical Jimmy Shine. After making a transition to television in the 1970's she caught the attention of producer Norman Lear, and was cast as a guest post on the popular sitcom All in the Family. Impressed with her performance, she was taken on as lead role Vivian on the show's spin-off Maude. In 1985 she landed her most famous role as the self-absorbed bombshell Blanche Devereaux on Golden Girls. The part got her three Golden Globe nominations, three Emmy nominations, and an Emmy win in 1987.
Rue McClanahan was born on February 21, 1934, in Healdton, Oklahoma, to parents William Edwin and Dreda Rheua-Nell McClanahan. After graduating from the University of Tulsa in 1956, McClanahan started work as a professional actress, getting her start in small stage productions. She made her stage debut in a 1957 production of Inherit the Wind, at Pennsylvania's Erie Playhouse. She would move gradually closer and closer to Broadway, and in 1969, she made her Broadway debut across from Dustin Hoffman in the musical, Jimmy Shine.
Rue made the transition to television in the 1970s. Catching the attention of producer Norman Lear, McClanahan was chosen for a guest spot on the popular sitcom, All in the Family. Impressed by her performance, McClanahan was then cast as the comic foil to actress Bea Arthur in the All in the Family spin-off, Maude. She also made a number of appearances in some of the most popular televison series airing during the late 1970s and 1980s including Trapper John, MD, Fantasy Island, Newhart, and Mama's Family, in which she played Aunt Fran Crawley opposite Vicki Lawrence's title character Thelma Harper.
The Golden Girls
But Rue McClanahan would become best-known for her work on the 1985 hit sitcom The Golden Girls, in which she played the aging, sexually-liberated, self-absorbed Southern belle bombshell Blanche Devereaux. Her performance snagged her three Golden Globe nominations, three Emmy nominations, and an Emmy win in 1987.
After The Golden Girls ended in 1992, McClanahan starred briefly in a spin-off of the show, called Golden Palace. The show only lasted one season before its cancelation in 1993. Over then next decade, McClanahan then made a series of special appearances on TV sitcoms and dramas, including Boy Meets World and Law & Order. She also appeared on Broadway, including starring as Madame Morrible for several months (2005-2006) in the popular hit Wicked.
Health Crisis and Personal Life
In 1997, McClanahan began battling health problems and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought the disease for several years before entering full remission. In 2009, however, she suffered complications from a heart problem and underwent a triple bypass. Shortly after the surgery, in January 2010, McClanahan suffered a stroke. She recovered briefly before experiencing a fatal stroke on June 3, 2010. At the time of her death, she was 76.
McClanahan was married six times over the course of her life, and her romances were recounted in great detail in her 2007 autobiography My First Five Husbands... And the Ones Who Got Away. She is survived by her sixth husband, Morrow Wilson, and by son Mark Bish, her child from her first marriage to Tom Lloyd Bish.
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