Eddi-Rue "Rue" McClanahan (February 21, 1934 - June 3, 2010) was an American actress, best known for her roles in Maude, Mama's Family, and The Golden Girls.
Eddi-Rue McClanahan was born in Healdton, Oklahoma on February 21, 1934. She was the daughter of Dreda Rheua-Neil, a beautician, and William Edwin "Bill" McClanahan, a building contractor. Her family and she were Methodists.
She was of Irish and Choctaw ancestry. Her Choctaw great-grandfather was named Running Hawk according to her autobiography My First Five Husbands... and the Ones Who Got Away (2007). She grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma; she graduated from Ardmore High School. McClanahan earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Tulsa, where she majored in German and Theater and joined the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She was also a National Honor Society member.
A life member of the Actors Studio, McClanahan made her professional atage debut at Pennsylvania's Erie Playhouse in 1957, in the play Inherit the Wind. She began acting off-Broadway in New York City in 1957, but did not make her Broadway debut until 1969, when she portrayed Sally Weber i nthe original production of John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical, Jimmy Shine, with Dustin Hoffman i nthe title role.
Her role as Caroline Johnson on Another World (from July 1970 to September 1971) brought her notice. On the show, while taking care of twins Michael and Marianne Randolph, Caroline fell in love with their father, John, and began poisoning their mother, Pat. the short-term role was extended to more than a year before Caroline was finally brought to justice after kidnapping the twins. Once her role on Another World ended, McClanahan joined the cast of the CBS soap Where the Heart Is, in which she played Margaret Jardin.
On Maude, broadcast from 1972 to 1978, McClanahan played Maude's best friend, Vivian Harmon, wife of Dr. arthur Harmon.
On Mama's Family (1983 - 1990), McClanahan portrayed uptight spinster sister Fran Crowley to Mama Harper, who was also a journalist for the local paper. McClanahan appeared on the series for two seasons before the show was revamped.
The Golden Girls
On The Golden girls (1985 - 1992) and the short-lived successor The Golden Palace, McClanahan portrayed man-crazed southern belle Blanche Devereaux, owner of a house in which she lived and returned out to her three roommates and best friend: Dorothy Zbomal, Rose Nylund, and Sophia Petrillo, McClanahan recieved an Emmy Award in 1987 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work o nthe show.
She also appeared as a leader of Al-Anon in a 1970's informational video called "Slight Drinking Problem," in which Patty Duke played the enabling and eventually self-empowered wife of an alchholic. In feature films, McClanahan starred in 1961's The Rotten Apple, as well as Walk the Angry Beach in 1986. In 1971, she played a vicious fag hag in the film Some of My Best Friends Are. . ., which was set in a gay bar. in 1990, McClanahan starred as Matilda Joslyn Gage, mother-in-law of Lt. Frank Baum in the made-for-TV movie The Dreamer of OZ.
McClanahan guest-starred on Newhart. She also voice-acted in cartoons, voicing Scarlet in the 1997 Fox Christmas special Annabelle's wish. She played the role of Steve's grandmother in the Blue's Clues video Blue's Big Treasure Hunt (1999). In Spider-Man: The Animated Series episode "Doctor Octopus: Armed and Dangerous", she was Anastasia Hardy. In 2007 King of the Hill episode "Hair Today, Gone Today" cast her as Bunny. In 2009, she appeared in an episode of Law & Order as a woman who had an affair with John F. Kennedy.
On Broadway, McClanahan replaced Tammy Grimes as "The Visitor from New York" (Hannah Warren) in the Neil Simon comedy California Suite from April 4, 1977 until the show's closing on July 2, 1977.
An animal welfare advocate and vegetarian, McClanahan was one of the first celebrity supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). McClanahan also supported Alley Cats Allies, a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to transforming communities to protect and improve the lives of cats, and appeared in a public service announcement for the organization in early 2010.
A Democrat, in December 2003 she wrote a letter informing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry that his pheasant hunting had cost him her vote and respect. In a July 2008 interview, she weighed in on the 2008 Presidential campaigns. Regarding Barack Obama, she said;
"This is the damnesest election I've ever lived through, and Obama is the most amazing candidate I've ever bumped into. The man has unshaken integrity. He's the nearest thing to Lincoln we've seen."
- -Rue McClanahan, interview at Queerty.com
In 2003, she appeared in the musical romantic comedy film The Fighting Temptations as Nancy Stringer, which co-starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps and steve Harvey. On Broadway as Madame Morrible in the musical wicked on May 31, 2005. She played the role for eight months and departed the cast January 8, 2006. She was replaced by Carol Kane on January 10, 2006.
Her autobiography, My First Five Husbands. . . and the Ones Who Got Away, was released in 2007.
In June 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the 'Pop Culture' award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. McClanahan accepted the award with costars Bea Arthur and Betty White.
McClanahan's final acting role was in the cable series Sordid Lives on the Logo network, which premiered July 23, 2008, playing Peggy Ingram, the older sister of Sissy Hickey and mother of Latrelle, LaVonda and Earl "Brother Boy."
Rue was a supporter of gay rights, including advocating for same-sex marriage in the United States. In January 2009, she appeared in the star-studded "Defying Inequality: The Broadway Concert - A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights."
Health and death
In June 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she was treated successfully.
On November 14, 2009, she was to be honored for her lifetime achievements at an event "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, California. The event was postponed due to McClanahan's hospitalization. She had triple bypass surgery on November 4. It was announced on January 14, 2010, by Entertainment Tonight that, while recovering from surgery, she had suffered a minor stroke. In March 2010, fellow Golden Girls cast member Betty White reported on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that McClanahan was doing well and that her speech had returned to normal.
McClanahan died on June 3, 2010, at the age of 76, at New York Presbyterian Hospital after she suffered a brain hemorrhage. She was cremated after her death.
McClanahan's lontime friend Betty White, who co-starred with her on both Mama's Family and The Golden Girls, told Entertainment Tonight that McClanahan was a "close and dear friend" and that her death "hurts more than I ever thought it would."
McClanahan was survived by her sixth husband, Morrow Wilson (from whom she separated in 2009): her son from her first marriage, Mark Bish of Austin, Texas; her sister, Melinda L. McClanahan, of Silver City, New Mexico; and a nephew, Brendan Kinkade. There was no funeral services for McClanahan so her family created an official memorial page on Facebook to honor her, and memorial services were held during the summer of 2010 in New York and Los Angeles. On June 10, 2010, McClanahan's New York apartment went on the market for $3.95 million.