June 3, 2010 / 4:29 PM / 8 years ago

"Golden Girls" actress Rue McClanahan dies of stroke

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Rue McClanahan, best known for her award-winning role as a man-crazy Southern belle on television comedy “The Golden Girls”, has died after suffering a massive stroke. She was 76.

Actresses Rue McClanahan (L) and Bea Arthur who starred in TV series "The Golden Girls" pose at a taping of the 6th annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica in this file photo from June 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

McClanahan died in a New York City hospital in the early hours of Thursday morning with family members by her side, according to her manager. The actress suffered a minor stroke last November while recovering from heart bypass surgery.

McClanahan, who was married six times in real life, won an Emmy award for her role as Blanche Devereaux on hit sitcom “The Golden Girls.” Devereaux’s appetite for romance seemed almost insatiable, and the role was viewed by many as groundbreaking for portraying older women as still sexually active.

McClanahan’s death leaves Betty White, 88, as the only surviving member of “The Golden Girls” main cast, following the deaths of Bea Arthur in 2009 and Estelle Getty in 2008.

In a statement, White called McClanahan “a close and dear friend” and said she treasured their relationship.

“It hurts more than I even thought it would, if that’s possible,” White said.

“Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry, who once wrote for “Golden Girls,” said Devereaux was his favorite character for whom to pen dialogue. With a lesser actress, her “vanity and sexual appetite would have been off-putting. But in Rue’s brilliant hands, the character became one of the most beloved in the history of TV,” Cherry said.

In addition to winning an Emmy, U.S. television’s top honor, McClanahan earned Emmy nods three other times and was also nominated for three Golden Globe honors in the same role.

While Devereaux may have been McClanahan’s best-remembered character, it was by no means her only one. Her work includes well over 100 film, TV and stage roles spanning six decades.

Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Oklahoma, in 1934, McClanahan began her career on the stage, working off Broadway until the late 1960s when she found herself on the Great White Way in the musical “Jimmy Shine.”

In the early 1970s, she joined daytime TV show “Another World” for a brief stint, and in 1972 landed on groundbreaking TV comedy “Maude,” where she played a friend of the show’s title character, who in turn was portrayed by Bea Arthur.

Later in life, she wrote a memoir called “My First Five Husbands...And the Ones who Got Away,” and in 2005 returned to Broadway as Madame Morrible in the hit musical “Wicked.”

Her TV work also includes guest appearances on shows from “The Love Boat” to “Law and Order.”

She is survived by her current husband, Morrow Wilson, whom she married in 1997.

Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Alex Dobuzinskis

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