Born on February 21, 1934, in Healdton, Oklahoma, Eddi-Rue McClanahan graduated with honors from the University of Tulsa, where she majored in German and theatre, before embarking on what would become a highly successful career in theater, commercials, television, and film. Gifted, spirited, and blessed with an uncanny sense of comic timing, Rue is perhaps best known for her role as Blanche Devereaux in The Golden Girls, a wildly successful and critically acclaimed Touchstone Television series that aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992.
Rue began her acting career in New York City in 1957 and made her Broadway debut in 1969, portraying Sally Weber in the musical Jimmy Shine with Dustin Hoffman. The following year she landed her breakout role in the NBC soap Another World, bringing to life the maniacal nanny Caroline Johnson. Rue then joined the cast of the CBS soap Where the Heart Is, where she grabbed the spotlight as Margaret Jardin, another character of questionable intentions.
From 1972 to 1984, she played a variety of TV roles, including her charming performance as Vivian Cavender Harmon in Maude, the multiple award-winning CBS series. But it was in 1985 with The Golden Girls that Rue McClanahan found the perfect character for her unique comic talents, and playing the sarcastic, rapier-witted Blanche Devereaux gave Rue the chance to explore fully her comedic range.
“I’m playing a man-crazy, self-centered widow, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it!” she said during the show’s run.
“I’m very lucky and thrilled to be back with Bea [Arthur] and Betty [White], two wonderful actresses I’ve worked with before [on “Maude” and “Mama’s Family,” respectively]. And, of course, the hilarious Estelle Getty is a delight.”
The Golden Girls hilariously redefined viewer notions of how respectable older women ought to behave. Rue’s hilarious turn as an unrepentantly oversexed senior citizen endlessly recalling, with her spot-on Southern drawl, escapades from days gone by threatened to steal the show every week. During its original run, The Golden Girls received 65 Emmy® nominations, 11 Emmy awards and four Golden Globe® Awards. All the lead actresses won Emmy Awards for their performances on the show. Only the landmark television series All in the Family and Will & Grace can make that same claim. For her work on the series, Rue received the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series in 1987.
In 1992, Rue starred in The Golden Palace, again for Touchstone Television, in which she reprised the role of Blanche. This time, with dreams of becoming the next Leona Helmsley dancing in her head, Blanche convinced her roommates, Rose and Sophia, to pool their resources and buy an art deco hotel in Miami Beach.
Rue continued to act on television and on stage, remained an animal activist and became a successful author. In an interview late in life, she said she still thought often about her friends from The Golden Girls: “I was washing my face the other day and thought, ‘What if I was working today and walked onto the soundstage and Bea and Estelle were there?’ Those days were truly golden.”
Rue passed away on June 3, 2010, in New York City.