Seems we lose one every year.
2008 claimed Estelle Getty, taking her down with Alzheimer’s. 2009 proved to be possibly Bea Arthur’s worst year ever – she died of cancer, aged 86. Now it’s 2010 and Rue McClanahan’s turn. I don’t know about you, but I can’t take much more of this. It’s almost an annual tradition now to wake up one day and find that another Golden Girl’s dropped off the twig. Given this startling trend, I’m beginning to worry about Betty White. In fact, if you have anything approaching a heart, then you are too, so get praying.
Eddi-Rue McClanahan had been around a while. She made her debut on Broadway in 1969 alongside Dustin Hoffman in the musical Jimmy Shine, which I’ve never heard of, then moved on to acting in TV soap operas, including NBC’s Another World (which I’ve never heard of either). On the show, she played Caroline, apparently, a nanny to young twins Michael and Marianne Randolph. In the storyline, she fell in love with the kids’ father and spent most of her free time poisoning their mother. It’s a soap. That’s what nannies do on soaps. Anyway, somehow the writers managed to spin this threadbare yarn out for a year, before Caroline was finally charged and tried for kidnapping the twins and Rue ran screaming from the show. Another World was later axed. Justifiably, by the sound of it.
Despite her best efforts, and aside from a sparkle of notoriety among the kind of dim people who find time to watch daytime soaps, Rue didn’t even make so much as a blip on our sonar until 1972. That’s when she bagged the role of Vivian Harmon in Norman Lear’s popular but surprisingly forgettable sitcom Maude, playing opposite Bea Arthur. Only later, after escaping Maude, did the two of them finally hit their stride, with a stroke of good fortune that every actor begs for. In 1985, they found themselves part of a classic show – The Golden Girls. And that, my friends, was when the world grew to adore Rue McClanahan.
But not really.
The person they really adored was Blanche Devereaux, the carefree, conniving, saucy temptress we all wish we could be, and the woman who single-handedly made nymphomania among Florida senior citizens fashionable again, becoming one of the greatest sitcom characters ever created. For her part in this process, Rue won an Emmy.
She starred in other things too – movies, plays, TV series – usually to mixed reviews. Luckily, nobody remembers those. Nor do we care. Because by the time she got to play Golden Girl #4, Rue was locked into TV history, and will be remembered forever more as the horniest old person ever to grace our screens.
But back to the death thing.
I happen to know Betty White. Every year she takes me and my partner as her guests to the L.A. Zoo for a function called The Beastly Ball. It’s a grand affair, an all-you-can-eat buffet that I always get wasted at, usually while stuffing myself with more free food than a human body can reasonably hold. In that respect, I take this function very, very seriously.
Meanwhile, as I’m gorging like a prize hog, Betty is on her feet being the focus of all the attention. Somehow that’s always the case. The woman is a phenomenon. Everyone loves her. Except maybe Bea Arthur, who was a closet drunk and quite mean in real life, and apparently despised Betty for her popularity as well as her Emmys, maintaining her distance to the very end. Betty and Rue, on the other hand, got along well, probably because they had something in common – a passion for animals and animal rights.
What’s odd, given today’s horrible news, is how the death of the Golden Girls cast is like an ominous clock ticking down to something, but to what? Estelle Sher-Gettleman (Estelle Getty) went first, aged 84. As Dorothy’s mother (even though Getty was two years younger than Bea Arthur in real life), she was the least important character. Then Bea, the second least important, went in 09. And now it’s 2010, time to lose another. God’s picking them off one by one. Accordingly, Blanche Devereaux is no more.
This is why I urge you to get praying, people. Betty’s enjoying a fresh resurgence in popularity. She’s by far the most treasured, iconic comedy actress of our time – and I’m not just saying this because she takes me to the zoo every year – as well as being a wonderful human being. If God has her in his crosshairs and is even thinking of taking her in 2011, we need to start petitioning now. As things stand, she seems healthy and happy and just as vibrant as ever. So she’s in with a chance of beating this thing. But we mustn’t get cocky.
Rue, in contrast, was dogged by health problems in later life. First a run-in with breast cancer in the 70s, which she overcame, boldly marching on until 2009 when she had triple bypass surgery and suffered a small stroke, losing her power of speech. That was bad enough, but today she had another, much bigger stroke. This one, tragically, was enough to see her off altogether. She died, aged 76, early this morning in a New York hospital.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but there are certain public figures who, after they’re gone, seem to take a small piece of me with them. We’ve invested so much time and energy in their art that they’ve become an important part of us. Rue McClanahan was like that. She created something wonderfully memorable with her life and her craft and made millions of people she didn’t know very happy. We should all be able to say that when we go.
TV Swami – he still grieving the loss of Gary Coleman, so this another big blow. What’s with everyone dying all of a sudden?