NEW YORK - Rue McClanahan, 76, 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.
Her manager, Barbara Lawrence, said Ms. McClanahan died Thursday at 1 a.m. 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.
Ms. McClanahan had an active career in off-Broadway and regional stages in the 1960s before she was tapped for TV in the 1970s for the best-friend character on the hit series Maude, starring Beatrice Arthur. After that series ended in 1978, Ms. McClanahan landed the role of 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 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."
Ms. McClanahan snagged an Emmy for her work on the show in 1987.
White called Ms. McClanahan a close and dear 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, if that's even possible."
After The Golden Girls was canceled in 1992, Ms. McClanahan, White, and Getty reprised their roles in a short-lived spinoff, Golden Palace. Ms. McClanahan continued working in television, on stage and in film, appearing in the Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau vehicle Out to Sea and as the biology teacher in Starship Troopers.
She stepped in to portray Madame Morrible, the crafty headmistress, for a time in Wicked, Broadway's long-running Wizard of Oz prequel.
In 2008, Ms. McClanahan appeared in the Logo comedy Sordid Lives: The Series, playing the slightly addled, elderly mother of an institutionalized drag queen.
During production, Ms. McClanahan was recovering from 2007 surgery on her knee. It didn't stop her from filming a sex scene in which the bed broke, forcing her to hang on to a windowsill to avoid tumbling off.
Ms. McClanahan was born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Okla. She graduated with honors from the University of Tulsa with a degree in German and theater arts.
Her acting career began on the stage. She won an Obie - the off-Broadway version of the Tony - in 1970 for Who's Happy Now, playing the "other woman" in a family drama written by Oliver Hailey. Ms. McClanahan appeared only sporadically on television until producer Norman Lear tapped her for a guest role on All in the Family in 1971.
She went from there to a regular role in Maude, playing Vivian, the neighbor and best friend to Arthur in the starring role.
Ms. McClanahan was married six times: Tom Bish, with whom she had a son, Mark Bish; actor Norman Hartweg; Peter D'Maio; Gus Fisher; Tom Keel; and Morrow Wilson, whom she married on Christmas Day in 1997.