"Golden Girl" Rue McClanahan Dead at 76

Beloved actress played Blanche Devereaux on hit show

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 19: Actress Rue McClanahan attends the after party for the Broadway opening of ''The Story of My Life'' at Sardi's on February 19, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Killian/WireImage)

    Rue McClanahan, a veteran actress who hit it big in her fifties as one of "The Golden Girls,"  has died from a massive stroke.

    McClanahan, 76, won an Emmy Award playing Blanche Devereaux on the long-running 1980s sitcom, alongside Betty White and Bea Arthur. Arthur died earlier this year at 86 and Estelle Getty, who played Arthur's mom, died in 2008.

    "She passed away at 1 a.m. this morning," McClanahan's manager, Barbara Lawrence, told People magazine. "She had a massive stroke."

    McClanahan died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, just four days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, according to Lawrence, who added that at the time of her death Thursday, McClanahan “had her family with her. She went in peace.”

    White, now the sole survivor from the show's cast, is riding a resurgence at the age of 88, having recently hosted Saturday Night Live. She released a statement about her longtime friend and co-star.

    "Rue was a close and dear friend," White said. "I treasured our relationship. It hurts more than I even thought it would, if that's even possible."

    Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Okla., Rue lived in six towns by the time she was 8. She left the University of Tulsa and moved to New York in 1957, where she worked as a part-time file clerk while trying to launch a drama career.

    She landed some off-Broadway gigs early in her career before landing a role in the 1969 Broadway musical "Jimmy Shine," with Dustin Hoffman in the lead. She later gravitated to soap operas and then played the best friend of future castmate Arthur in the hit "Maude."

    But it was the role on "The Golden Girls," which aired from 1985 to 1982 that earned McClanahan the most notoriety. Playing a sex-starved Southern belle, she lived with three greying roommates. Her work was rewarded with an Emmy in 1987.

    McClanahan, who beat breast cancer in 1997, suffered a minor stroke in January. She was married six times, including to Morrow Wilson from 1997 to the time of her death.

    "People always ask me if I'm like Blanche," McClanahan wrote in her 2007 book, "My First Five Husbands... and The One That Got Away. "And I say, 'Well, Blanche was an oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern Belle from Atlanta -- and I'm not from Atlanta."

    At McClanahan's request, there will be no funeral, although memorial services will be held later this summer in New York and Los Angeles. Her family urged fans to visit her memorial page on facebook.