The Golden Girls: (Clockwise) Bea Arthur,
Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty.

Rue McClanahan, who played the man-loving Blanche Devereaux in the iconic Emmy-winning sitcom The Golden Girls, has died.

The show, which ran from 1985 to 1992 continues to have a strong gay following, in part because of its then ground-breaking pro-gay storylines.

The 76 year old actress passed away at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital from a brain haemorrhage, leaving co-star Betty White (88) as the last surviving cast member from the series.

Bea Arthur (who played Dorothy Zbornak) died in April last year, while Estelle Getty (Sophia Petrillo) passed away in 2000.

“Rue was a close and dear friend. I treasure our relationship,” White said in a statement. “It hurts more than I ever thought it would, if that’s even possible.”

Oklahoma-born McClanahan began her career as a stage actress off and on-Broadway in New York, but it was the character of sassy Southern belle Blanche that secured her international fame. She went on to win an Emmy Award in 1987 for the role.

She was married six times, publishing an autobiography titled My First Five Husbands… and the Ones Who Got Away, and was a breast cancer survivor.

In her autobiography she wrote: “People always ask if I’m really like Blanche. I say, ‘Well, consider the facts: Blanche was a glamorous, oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy Southern belle from Atlanta – and I’m not from Atlanta.”

McClanahan was recovering from a minor stroke caused by triple bypass heart surgery when she suffered another more serious stroke that led to a fatal brain haemorrhage. She is survived by a son.

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