NEW YORK - Rue McClanahan, the Emmy-winning actress who brought the sexually liberated Southern belle Blanche Devereaux to life on the hit TV series "The Golden Girls," has died. She was 76.

Her manager, Barbara Lawrence, said McClanahan died early yesterday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital of a brain hemorrhage.

She had undergone treatment for breast cancer in 1997 and later lectured to cancer-support groups on "aging gracefully." In 2009, she had heart bypass surgery.

McClanahan had an active career in off-Broadway and regional stages in the 1960s before she was tapped in the 1970s for the key best-friend character on the hit TV series "Maude," starring Beatrice Arthur. After that series ended in 1978, McClanahan landed the role as Aunt Fran on "Mama's Family" in 1983.

But her most loved role came in 1985, when she co-starred with Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty in "The Golden Girls," a runaway hit that broke the sitcom mold by focusing on the foibles of four aging - and frequently eccentric - women living together in Miami.

Blanche, who called her father "Big Daddy," was a frequent target of roommates Dorothy, Rose and the outspoken Sophia (Getty), who would fire off zingers at Blanche such as, "Your life's an open blouse."

Fellow "Golden Girl" Betty White called McClanahan a close and dear friend and said she "treasured our relationship."

McClanahan snagged an Emmy for her work on the show in 1987. In an Associated Press interview that year, McClanahan said Blanche was unlike any other role she had ever played.

"Probably the closest I've ever done was Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' at the Pasadena Playhouse," she said. "I think, too, that's where the name came from, although my character is not a drinker and not crazy."

After "The Golden Girls" was canceled in 1992, McClanahan, White and Getty reprised their roles in a short-lived spinoff, "Golden Palace."

McClanahan was married six times: Tom Bish, with whom she had a son, Mark Bish; actor Norman Hartweg; Peter D'Maio; Gus Fisher; and Tom Keel. She married husband Morrow Wilson on Christmas Day 1997.

She called her 2007 memoir "My First Five Husbands . . . And the Ones Who Got Away."