Rue McClanahan, one of two surviving "Golden Girls" and a highly regarded veteran of stage and TV whose career stretched back to the mid-1950s, died early Thursday. She was 76.

McClanahan's manager, Barbara Lawrence, said in a statement first released to People magazine that she died Thursday at 1 a.m. at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center of a brain hemorrhage. She had undergone treatment for breast cancer in 1997, apparently completely beating the disease, and had a heart bypass surgery last year.

Long before "The Golden Girls," McClanahan appeared on Broadway and Off-Broadway, starring in "California Suite" and "Sticks and Bones," the David Rabe satire about a disabled Vietnam vet.

But it was and likely forever will be Blanche Devereaux for whom McClanahan is best known. Both shared certain similarities, most notably as Southern women who had complicated relations with the opposite sex. McClanahan - born in Oklahoma, she then moved south, to Louisiana - was married six times, and Blanche was a famous serial dater whose appetite for men - any man - was a running gag over seven seasons of "Golden Girls."

"I treasured our relationship," said Betty White - who played the sweet, but dim-bulbed Rose Nylund on "Golden Girls" - said in a statement about McClanahan. "It hurts more than I even thought it would, if that's even possible."

Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Okla., to a beautician mother and a general-contractor father, McClanahan recalled in a 2006 interview with the Archive of American Television that when she was a little girl, she looked down the sleepy Main Street of town and decided that she had been born in the wrong place and time. Later, on a trip to New York, she realized, "This is the right world."

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After graduating from the University of Tulsa, she would later go to New York, study under theater legends Uta Hagen and Harold Clurman, following that up with roles on stage and soaps, including "Another World."

Years later, during the "Sticks and Bones" run, she got a call from "All in the Family" producer Norman Lear to appear in an episode with Vincent Gardenia. McClanahan and Gardenia ended up in one of the most famous scenes in "Family" history: As wife-swapping swingers who scandalized Archie and Edith.

McClanahan's portrayal of a hyper-sexed vamp was thus established. She then landed a full-time gig on "Maude," as Beatrice Arthur's best friend, Vivian. That professional tie helped establish "The Golden Girls" ensemble.Arthur was reluctant to join, but McClanahan - who was originally considered for the role of Rose - convinced her to.With White, Arthur, McClanahan and Estelle Getty on board, NBC found itself with a hit show, which aired on Saturday nights from 1985-92.

About four seniors with radically different personalities who nonetheless forged deep and lasting bonds in retirement, Blanche was the one least willing to renounce - to put this delicately - her libido. As Sophia (Getty) said to her on the show, "Your life's an open blouse."

McClanahan, who got a best supporting actress Emmy for the role in 1987, later said of Blanche in an interview with The Associated Press: She's "in love with life and she loves men. I think she has an attitude toward women that's competitive. She is friends with Dorothy and Rose, but if she has enough provocation, she becomes competitive with them. I think basically she's insecure. It's the other side of the Don Juan syndrome."McClanahan was married six times: Tom Bish, with whom she had a son, Mark Bish; actor Norman Hartweg; Peter D'Maio; Gus Fisher; Tom Keel; and, she married husband Morrow Wilson on Christmas Day in 1997.

 

Blanche Devereaux's memorable lines

 

 

 

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  • I am nothing but a cheap, tawdry slut.

 

 

  • Like, I'm the only person who has ever mixed a margarita in a sailor's mouth.

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  • You know how fragile men's ego are . . . Do the smallest thing such as scream out the wrong name and they go to pieces.

 

 

  • I swear, with God as my witness, I will never pick up another man . . . in a library . . . on a Saturday . . . unless he's cute and drives a nice car. Amen.