April 26, 2009 / 6:27 AM / 10 years ago

"Golden Girls" star Bea Arthur dies at 86

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Emmy Award-winning actress Bea Arthur, best known as star of the hit TV comedies “Maude” and “Golden Girls,” has died at age 86, entertainment news websites reported on Saturday.

Actresses Rue McClanahan (L) and Bea Arthur who starred in TV series "The Golden Girls" pose at a taping of the 6th annual TV Land Awards in Santa Monica in this file photo from June 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Arthur, a longtime stage actress whose comic timing and deadpan delivery were a perfect fit for her sharp-tongued roles on the two series, died of cancer at her Los Angeles home, celebrity website TMZ reported.

Representatives for the actress, who won best-actress Emmys — America’s top television award — for “Maude” and “Golden Girls,” could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Thirty-seven years ago she showed me how to be very brave in playing comedy,” one of Arthur’s co-stars, Rue McClanahan, told TMZ in a statement. “I’ll miss that courage and I’ll miss that voice.”

Born Beatrice Frankel in New York on May 13, 1922, Arthur began performing in college and appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway roles, winning a Tony Award opposite Angela Lansbury in “Mame.”

In the early 1970s, Arthur appeared on the groundbreaking television comedy “All in the Family” as Edith Bunker’s fiercely liberal cousin Maude. Producers who saw gold in the role quickly devised a spinoff for the character.

“Maude” debuted on CBS in 1972 and became one of the top-rated sitcoms on U.S. television during its six-year run.

In a two-part episode that aired in November 1972, the show stirred protest and controversy when Maude decided to have an abortion because of her age. The procedure was legal in New York state, where the show was set, but not nationwide.

Two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Arthur followed with “Golden Girls,” an unlikely hit from 1985 to 1992 that featured four female retirees living together.

Central to the popularity of “Golden Girls” was the comic interplay between Arthur’s character and her mother, played by Estelle Getty — who in real life was a year younger and who also won an Emmy for the show.

Getty died last July at the age of 84.

According to CNN, no funeral services had been planned for Arthur. She is survived by two sons and two grandchildren, and family members have asked that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to two of her favorite causes, the ArtAttack foundation and the animal rights group PETA.

“People have lost one of the greatest comic actresses of all time and animals have lost one of their all-time greatest defenders,” Dan Matthews, PETA senior vice president, said in a statement.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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