The ’80s hit The Golden Girls still holds a loyal following thanks to syndication and streaming. Featuring an older cast, the sitcom was a rarity on television. But the Golden Girls’ names — Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak, Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux, Betty White as Rose Nylund, and Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo — became synonymous with comedy gold.
During the TV show’s run from 1985 to 1992, fans fell in love with the four Floridians sharing a home and plenty of cheesecake. So, are any of the Golden Girls cast members still alive?
Bea Arthur was a stage and screen veteran before ‘The Golden Girls’
By the time she joined the Golden Girls cast, Bea Arthur was a Tony- and Emmy-winning actor, Biography reports. Born in New York City in May 1922, Arthur played a memorable role on All in the Family as Edith’s cousin. The guest spot earned her the spinoff series Maude, debuting in 1972 and running for six seasons.
One of the few assertive female characters in the ’70s, Maude resonated with fans and made Arthur a household name. The role also earned her an Emmy Award in 1977 and three nominations.
Co-headlining the Golden Girls cast as Dorothy Zbornak thrust Arthur back into the spotlight. Her character’s acerbic wit and sarcasm often took center stage in every episode. Arthur brought home another Emmy in 1988 for her role on The Golden Girls.
Married and divorced twice, Arthur shared two sons — Matthew and Daniel — with second husband, Gene Saks. She died on Apr. 25, 2009, of lung cancer at age 86.
Estelle Getty had to audition twice for her ‘Golden Girls’ character
Ironically, Estelle Getty portrayed Dorothy’s mother, Sophia Petrillo, even though she was a year younger than Arthur. Born Estelle Scher, she auditioned for the role and was initially considered too young for the part, according to IMDb.
When she got another shot to try out for Sophia, she auditioned in full costume, complete with a gray wig, grandmotherly apparel, and makeup that added several years to her face. She nailed the part and went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1988.
Getty was married to Arthur Gettleman from 1947 until his death in 2004. They had two sons, Carl and Barry. The Golden Girls star died of Lewy body dementia on July 22, 2008, three days before her 85th birthday.
Rue McClanahan was the youngest ‘Golden Girls’ cast member
Rue McClanahan and Arthur had worked together on Maude, where McClanahan played the title character’s best friend, Vivian. With an impressive list of film and Broadway credits, McClanahan had no problem embodying the saucy Southern siren Blanche on The Golden Girls. Originally named Eddi-Rue after her parents’ middle names, the actor dropped the first half after being mistaken for a man, The New York Times reports.
Born on Feb. 21, 1934, McClanahan was more than 10 years younger than her Golden Girls co-stars. She was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series four times for her role as Blanche and took home the trophy in 1986.
McClanahan released a memoir in 2007, My First Five Husbands … And the Ones Who Got Away. She married a sixth time to Morrow Wilson in 1997. McClanahan also had a son, Mark, from her first marriage. She experienced several health issues near the end of her life, including breast cancer, a minor stroke, and triple bypass surgery. McClanahan died on June 3, 2010, of a massive stroke. She was 76 years old.
Betty White outlived her co-stars
Few celebrities are as popular and beloved as Betty White. Born on Jan. 17, 1922, White began her showbiz career in the 1950s on the TV series Life With Elizabeth. Moving on to hits such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland, White remains a fan favorite.
White’s impressive professional bio includes film work, voice acting, and guest appearances in TV dramas. The comedy legend was also the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live in 2010. She also headed the Candid Camera-style show Betty White’s Off Their Rockers for three seasons.
According to Parade, White was set to play Blanche in the Golden Girls cast, with McClanahan selected to portray Rose. After a producer asked the actors to read each other’s parts, it became clear they were better suited for those characters. White racked up 21 Emmy nominations, including five wins. She took home the award in 1986 for her role on The Golden Girls.
White was married three times but called her last husband, Allen Ludden, the “love of her life.” They were married from 1963 until his death in 1981. White had no biological children. She died on Dec. 31, 2021, at the age of 99.
Although the four co-stars are no longer alive, their legacies — including their iconic Golden Girls characters — will never die.