Photo Credit: Todd Williamson/Getty Images for TV Land
Few TV ensembles have been as beloved as the ladies of The Golden Girls -- and the realization that Betty White is the only surviving Golden Girl makes the death of Rue McClanahan even sadder. White, who played McClanahan's best friend on the show, released a short but heartbreaking statement to the press on Thursday.
"Rue was a close and dear friend. I treasure our friendship," says White. "It hurts more than I ever thought it would, if that's possible." McClanahan was 76 years old when she died of a stroke on Thursday -- 12 years younger than her surviving co-star White. (The other two Golden Girls, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty, passed away in 2008 and 2009. Both were in their mid-80s.)
White and McClanahan were known to be good friends onscreen and off, but they shared another unusual bond: they were almost cast in each other's roles. Originally, Golden Girls producers asked White to read for the sharp-tongued, promiscuous Southern belle Blanche (similar to White's lusty role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show), whereas McClanahan was considered for naive, small-town Rose (akin to her role on Maude). But when the pair switched roles during auditions, they lit up the room. Watch McClanahan and White tell the story in the clip below; it's obvious that they were the best of friends. (And McClanahan does a fabulous Bea Arthur impersonation.)
Another Golden Girls alum who mourns McClanahan's passing is that sitcom's former writer and producer Marc Cherry (now best known as creator of Desperate Housewives). "When I worked on The Golden Girls, my favorite character to write for was Blanche Devereaux," Cherry said. "In the hands of lesser actresses, Blanche's vanity and sexual appetite would have been off-putting. But in Rue's brilliant hands, that character became one of the most beloved in the history of TV. Rue's kindness, generosity and enormous talent will be sorely missed."
Not only was McClanahan was a remarkably talented comedienne, but she created a vivacious character who inspired millions of women (and plenty of gay men) to live life to the fullest. Samantha on Sex and the City showed us that women can be fabulously sexy in their 40s -- but it was Blanche on Golden Girls, a decade earlier, who made 60 look damn good.
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