Golden Girls Star Beatrice Arthur Dies

Beatrice Arthur

Ron Galella/WireImage

updated 04/25/2009 AT 4:00 PM ET

originally published 04/25/2009 AT 4:15 PM ET

Beatrice Arthur, the larger-than-life actress who scored on Broadway as the original matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof and the hard-drinking actress in Mame before she went on to star in the groundbreaking ’70s TV series Maude and, in the ’80s, the beloved sitcom The Golden Girls, died early Saturday morning. She was 86.

Dan Watt, a spokesman for Arthur’s family, told the Associated Press that the star had been suffering with cancer, though he did not specify what kind. She died peacefully at her Los Angeles home with her family by her side, said Watt, who remembered Arthur as “a brilliant and witty woman.”

Maude, which debuted on CBS in 1972 (and ran until 1978) was a spin-off of the hit All in the Family. As the liberal cousin of archconservative Archie Bunker’s wife Edith, the much-married Maude wasn’t afraid to broach such controversial (especially for TV at the time) topics as abortion and civil rights.

Golden Girls, a popular NBC Saturday-night staple from 1985 to 1992, featured Arthur as the outspoken Dorothy Zbornak, who shared a Florida home with three other women, including her mother, played by Estelle Getty – who died last July, at 84. The other stars were Rue McClanahan and Betty White.

“Bea was such an important part of a very happy time in my life and I have dearly loved her for a very long time,” White said in a statement Saturday. “How lucky I was to know her.”

New York Origins

Born Bernice Frankel in New York City but raised in Maryland, where her parents ran a women’s clothing store, Arthur debuted on the Off Broadway stage in New York in the 1940s, with her Broadway musical triumphs – though her singing voice was deep and scratchy – in the mid-’60s.

Beatrice Arthur

Ron Galella/WireImage
Married and divorced twice, Arthur took her stage name (in part) from her first husband, the screenwriter, director and producer Robert Alan Aurthur, whose credits include the Bob Fosse film All That Jazz. With second husband, Mame director Gene Saks, she adopted two sons, Matthew, 47, and Daniel, 44. They survive her.

Of her powerful stage and TV persona, which often found her cast in the same sort of role, Arthur once said, “Look – I’m 5-feet-9, I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line. What can I do about it? I can’t stay home waiting for something different. I think it’s a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting.”

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