"Golden Girls" Actress Rue McClanahan Dies At 76
Rue McClanahan, known by many generations of fans as the sexually liberated Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on the "Golden Girls," has died, her manager announced Thursday.

According to Barbara Lawrence, McClanahan died early Thursday at 1 a.m. of a stroke. She was 76.

McClanahan, who had landed TV and film work well into her final years, survived breast cancer in 1997 and later lectured to cancer support groups on "aging gracefully." She suffered a minor stroke earlier this year after undergoing a heart bypass.

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 key best-friend character on the hit series "Maude," starring Beatrice Arthur. After that series ended in 1978, McClanahan landed the role as Aunt Fran on "Mama's Family" in 1983.

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.

"Golden Girls" co-star Betty White, who has recently experienced a career comeback, is the last surviving cast member from the original ensemble. Just last month, White was tapped to host "Saturday Night Live."

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

McClanahan's co-stars, Beatrice Arthur died from cancer in 2009, while Estelle Getty passed away in 2008.