Actress Charlotte Rae, star of 'Facts of Life,' dead at 92

(Reuters) - Charlotte Rae, the actress, singer and comedienne who won acclaim on Broadway and was best known for her starring role as a girls boarding school housemother on U.S. television’s “The Facts of Life” from 1979 to 1986, has died at the age of 92.

FILE PHOTO: Actress Charlotte Rae (C) speaks with the cast of the television show "Facts of Life" during the 2011 TV Land Awards in New York April 10, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Rae died at her home in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon surrounded by her family, her manager Paul Hilepo wrote in an email.

Rae earned an Emmy Award nomination in 1982 for her role as Edna Garrett on “The Facts of Life,” a series built around young actresses Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields and Mindy Cohn but held together by show business veteran Rae.

She originated the role in 1978 on another situation comedy, “Diff’rent Strokes,” and her character proved so popular that “The Facts of Life” was created as a spinoff for her, also on the NBC network.

Rae was a familiar face to TV viewers from her appearances on a variety of shows, including the 1960s police sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?” She earned an Emmy nomination for her role in the 1975 CBS drama “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.”

She also was well known on Broadway, picking up a Tony Award nomination in 1966 for the musical “Pickwick” and in 1969 for the play “Morning, Noon and Night.” In 1956, she originated the role of Mammy Yokum in the popular musical “Lil’ Abner.”

She was cast in “Diff’rent Strokes” in the role of a flighty but loving housekeeper for a white New York businessman, played by Conrad Bain, who adopts the two young black sons, played by Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, of his late previous housekeeper.

Her character’s popularity paved the way for the creation of “The Facts of Life” in which she offered motherly guidance to the young characters at an all-girl boarding school.

Rae left the show, which sometimes dealt with topical issues such as drugs and sex, in 1986 after 146 episodes. It ran two more seasons with Cloris Leachman stepping in as a regular.

Rae said she enjoyed how TV viewers embraced her character on “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life.”

“When I walk down the street or I’m in the market or I’m in my car and there’s a truck driver next to me and they give me the thumbs-up sign and they say, ‘We love you,’ it’s so lovely. It’s just kind of a bonus,” she said in a 1984 interview. “Sometimes they’d come right over and hug me.”

She was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky on April 22, 1926, in Milwaukee, the daughter of Russian immigrants. She dropped her last name for show business. After college, she worked in Chicago on TV and radio before moving to New York City, where she developed a nightclub act and broke into Broadway.

She survived a bout with pancreatic cancer in 2009. Rae divorced her husband in 1976 after having two sons.

Reporting by Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Susan Thomas