Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Very Sad Day for Golden Girl Fans

Beatrice Arthur, 'Golden Girls' star, dies at 86

Beatrice Arthur, an icon of '70s TV as the star of Maude, and then one of the staples of '80s TV as one of the leads in The Golden Girls, has died at age 86, according to an Associated Press report. A family spokesman told AP the Emmy and Tony Award winner had cancer, and died peacefully at her home in Los Angeles.

Arthur's best-known roles came in popular sitcoms that didn't shy away from the serious issues of the day. On Maude, which aired from 1972-1978, Arthur's pantsuit-wearing, feminist title character had an abortion, which resulted in a flurry of viewer protests. Arthur scored five Emmy nominations and one win for the role. The ribald, hilarious Golden Girls -- which over seven seasons tackled hot-button issues such as menopause, homophobia, suicide, and racism -- found Arthur playing gruff, wisecrack-spewing divorcée Dorothy Zbornak, who shared a Miami home with her mother and two loopy friends. Arthur picked up four more Emmy nods and one win as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for the role.

In a 2005 interview with EW, Arthur recalled she "flipped" when she first read the script for The Golden Girls' pilot episode. "After all of the crap I'd been sent, here was something so bright and adult and fabulously funny," she said.

Arthur's long-time friend Billy Goldenberg, who co-created 2002's Bea Arthur on Broadway, tells EW.com that the actress was "never afraid to say anything that she believed in. The rest of us always took a moment before we said anything, maybe edited it. But she never did. And that was rather odd, because she was a very shy, private person." Goldenberg says that while Arthur would often wonder why she inspired such widespread and passionate fandom, he surmised it was the way the actress championed underdogs, "people who felt like second-class citizens," in both her on-screen and off-screen life.
After exiting Golden Girls in 1992, Arthur worked sparingly. Since 2000, she made guest-starring appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Futurama. She scored yet another Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for a role as a loopy babysitter on Malcolm in the Middle.

Earlier in her career, Arthur tasted success on Broadway and on the big screen, even winning a Tony Award for her roles as Vera Charles, formidable pal of Angela Lansbury's title character in Mame. She would go on to play the same role in the musical's big-screen adaptation, though in that instance opposite Lucille Ball.

EW.com will be catching up with more of Arthur's friends and colleagues as the weekend goes on. Please keep checking back for further updates:

Betty White, who so memorably played Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls opposite Arthur, gave this statement to Entertainment Tonight: "I knew it would hurt, I just didn't know it would hurt this much. I'm so happy that she received her Lifetime Achievement Award while she was still with us, so she could appreciate that. She was such a big part of my life."

Angela Lansbury, who co-starred with Arthur in Mame on Broadway, released this statement (via ET Online): "Bea Arthur and I first met when we did 'Mame' together in 1965. She became and has remained 'My Bosom Buddy' ever since. I am deeply saddened by her passing, but also relieved that she is released from the pain. I spoke to Matt, her son, yesterday and I was aware that her time was imminent. She was a rare and unique performer and a dear, dear friend."

Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, who worked with Arthur when he was a writer-producer for The Golden Girls, tells EW exclusively: "I really loved her -- and gained so much from working with her. She was deeply supportive of me at the start of my career. Her warmth wasn't superficial -- it was genuine and bespoke true compassion. And it was this same inner sweetness that made her comedy so real and touching, and made her such an inspiration."

-- Michael Slezak, with additional reporting by Dan Snierson and Adam B. Vary

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