Rue McClanahan, one of the last surviving stars of the seminal sitcom ‘The Golden Girls,’ has died after suffering a massive stroke, her manager has confirmed to PEOPLE. She was 76 years old at the time of her death. “She passed away at 1 AM this morning. She had a massive stroke,” Barbara Lawrence told the magazine, adding that the actress “had her family with her. She went in peace.”
The comedic star was best known for her role as saucy Blanche Devereaux on the hit 1980s series, about four retired ladies living it up in Miami. Her death now leaves Betty White as the only living ‘Girl.’
James Poniewozik at Time:
The Golden Girls was a popular and long-lived sitcom in its time, of course, but one of the most striking phenomena of vintage TV today is how popular the show has stayed among TV fans, including those well below retirement age.
Part of it, of course, is simply that the show was well-executed and the performances, McClanahan’s among them, were consistently sharp and well-timed. But the show also seems to strike a chord, both because of how its characters represented their age and transcended it. On the one hand, it was and is refreshing to see a group of senior women—second-class citizens on much of TV then and now—bickering, living and refusing to be invisible. And on the other hand, there’s also something universally appealing about the characters’ insistence on owning their lives, their voices and their sexuality.
Like Sex and the City’s characters later, their appeal was in their power to say whatever, do whatever—and in Blanche’s case, do whomever—they wanted. And its hard to imagine the show without the way McClanahan embodied Blanche’s life force; it spoke not just to senior ladies but to young women, gay men and, for that matter, fans of strong characters whatever their own gender, sexuality or age. McClanahan’s performance transcended her demographic niche, and it will surely outlive her death. RIP.
Michael Musto at Village Voice
Brian Moylan at Gawker:
It was the role that she was always meant to play, brash, slutty, and not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. Rue was much like this in real life. I only met her once a few years ago. I interviewed her to talk about her last role in the Logo television show Sordid Lives where she played the tough matriarch of a trashy Texas clan. Aside from talking about how thrilling it was to be acting so late in life, she also told stories about her Golden Girls castmates and off-color tales of her many husbands (some of which are in her autobiography My First Five Husbands). Sorry, most of them were off the record, but I can tell you that talking to her was an absolute blast. She was lively and engaging. Rue had that spark that marks a true entertainer, someone who loved having every eye in the place on her and knew how to keep it there.
Now Betty White, who is enjoying a career resurgence late, is the only member of The Golden Girls cast still alive. Estelle Getty died in 2008 and Bea Arthur passed last year. These deaths seem harder than when most actors of celebrities pass away. Maybe it’s because the characters they played were close to the actresses’ personalities, that we feel like we were so close to them. Their infamous theme song wasn’t so much about the women’s relationship to each other, but thanking us for being their friends and sharing in their adventures.
For younger people who grew up watching the sitcom—or discovering it in syndication, where it still lives today—these were like our surrogate grandmothers. Funny ladies who were at turns gentle, kind, funny, and daffy. Ones that lived a full life of friendship, dating, multicolored caftans, and lots and lots of cheesecake. Yeah, it was a TV show, but thanks to the wonderful actresses who inhabited the roles, it always felt like the real thing.
Megan Carpentier at Spencer Ackerman’s place:
And although Blanche’s coquettishness and high post-menopausal sex drive were often played for laughs, she represented a grandmotherly type you didn’t (and still don’t often see) in popular culture: not a MILF or a GILF, but a woman who found herself attractive, felt herself sexy and pursued her interests and pleasures (and conquests) unabashedly. She might try out a new beauty cream, or extol the virtues of a girdle, but she wasn’t headed to a plastic surgeon for an eyelift here, a tummy tuck there or (God forbid) a vaginoplasty — unlike, say, Margaret Chenowith on Six Feet Under. Blanche was the woman we wanted to be (at least, until we were old enough to be Sophia): she wasn’t sarcastic (and constantly getting back with her unworthy ex) like Dorothy or dotty like Rose, she was there to show us that there was life, love and great sex for the taking, even as a widow, even as a senior citizen. She was a woman of her time, in the sense that she saw the strict differentiation of the genders, and ahead of her time, as she defied conventions about how older women are supposed to feel, what they are supposed to want and how they are supposed to act.
Blanche wasn’t the character most like my grandmother, and Rue might not have had the biting wit of Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty or (as we’ve all come to realize) Betty White, but she stood for something that is as important to women as intelligence and humor (both of which she had in spades) — the idea that we don’t stop being women (and sexual beings) when our hair turns white, our breasts head south and our periods (finally!) stop. And for that, though Rue might be gone, neither she nor the character she created will be forgotten.
Andrew Scott at TV Squad
Lea Lane at Huffington Post:
I spent a few days with Rue McClanahan, who died this morning of a stroke at 76.
About 15 years ago I was invited as a travel writer on a “Love Boat” Valentine excursion where everyone on board was getting their marriage vows renewed. Our little solo group included Gavin McCloud, who went on most of the trips in the Captain Stubing persona from The Love Boat. He had grown up in Pleasantville, NY, north of New York City, near where I lived. I interviewed him for the local papers and he told many tales of life on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He loved the opportunity he had to meet people and travel.
Another in the invited group was Rue McClanahan, who played Blanche on The Golden Girls. She was sweet and soft-spoken, and single at the time. She commented that she had met a man on board who had given her a teddy bear, and she figured that if he was on this cruise that he was married.
She had been married a few times and seemed interested in finding love again, and I remember reading that she did a couple of years later. The bunch of us invited guests hung out together for the long weekend, talking of men and life. I remember thinking that she reminded me a lot of her character on The Golden Girls. Lots of giggles. Soft voice. Full of life.
She talked often of working with Bea Arthur, both on The Golden Girls and on Maude, where Rue portrayed Vivian, Maude’s best friend.