Beatrice "Bea" Arthur died she was 86. Arthur was an American comedian, actress, and singer. In a career spanning seven decades, Arthur achieved success as the title character, Maude Findlay, on the 1970s sitcom Maude, and as Dorothy Zbornak on the 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls; she won Emmys for both roles.
(May 13, 1922 – April 25, 2009)
Arthur was born Bernice Frankel to Philip and Rebecca Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922. Her family soon moved to Maryland where her parents operated a women's clothing shop. She attended the now-defunct Blackstone College in Blackstone, Virginia where she was active in drama productions.
Arthur began her acting career as a member of an off Broadway theater group at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City in the late 1940s. On stage, her roles included "Lucy Brown" in the 1954 Off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein's English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, "Yente the Matchmaker" in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, and a 1966 Tony Award-winning portrayal of "Vera Charles" to Angela Lansbury's Mame. She reprised the role in the 1974 film version opposite Lucille Ball. In 1981, she appeared in Woody Allen's The Floating Lightbulb.
In 1972, Arthur was cast as the title character in the television series Maude. She played Maude Findlay, an outspoken liberal living in the affluent community of Tuckahoe, Westchester County, New York, with her husband, Walter (Bill Macy) and divorced daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau). The show was a spin-off from All in the Family, on which Arthur had appeared a couple of times in the same role, playing Edith Bunker's cousin, a feminist, and antithesis to the bigoted, conservative Archie Bunker, who described Maude as a "New Deal fanatic". Her role garnered several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including her Emmy win in 1977 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
In 1978, she costarred in the poorly-received The Star Wars Holiday Special, in which she had a song and dance routine in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
After appearing in the short-lived 1983 sitcom Amanda's (an unsuccessful U.S. version of the British hit series Fawlty Towers), Arthur was cast in the hit sitcom The Golden Girls in 1985, in which she played Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami house owned by Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan). Her other roommates included widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Dorothy's Sicilian mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). Getty was actually a year younger than Arthur in real life, and was heavily made up to look significantly older. Arthur's character, Dorothy, had a caustic sense of humor and was prone to making witty and sarcastic wisecracks. The series was a huge hit, remaining a top ten ratings fixture for six seasons. Her performance led to several Emmy nominations over the course of the series and an Emmy win in 1988. Arthur decided to leave the show after seven years and in 1992, the show was moved from NBC to CBS and retooled as The Golden Palace in which the other three actresses reprised their roles. Arthur made a guest appearance in a two-part episode, but the show only lasted for one season before it was cancelled.
After Arthur left The Golden Girls, she made several guest appearances on television shows and even organized and toured with her one-woman show. She made a guest appearance on the American cartoon Futurama, in the Emmy-nominated episode, "Amazon Women in the Mood", as the voice of the Femputer who ruled the giant Amazonian women. She also appeared in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle as Dewey's babysitter. She was nominated for a guest-star Emmy for her performance. She also showed up as Larry David's mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
In 2002, she returned to Broadway starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, a collection of stories and songs (with musician Billy Goldenberg) based on her life and career. The show was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event, but lost to Elaine Stritch: At Liberty.
In 2005, she participated in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson, delivering a deadpan reading of excerpts from Pamela's book Star: The Novel, most notably the part that describes receiving sodomy-related advice.
Arthur was inducted into Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 2008. On June 8, 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the Pop Culture award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Arthur accepted the award with co-stars Rue McClanahan and Betty White.
In 1999, Arthur told an interviewer of the three influences in her career: "Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous; [method acting guru] Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality; and [the original Threepenny Opera star], Lotte Lenya, whom I adored, taught me economy."
Arthur was married twice, first to Robert Alan Aurthur, a screenwriter, television, and film producer and director, whose surname she took and kept though with a modified spelling, and second to director Gene Saks from 1950 to 1978 with whom she adopted two sons, Matthew (born July 14, 1961), an actor, and Daniel (born May 8, 1964), a set designer.
She primarily lived in the Greater Los Angeles Area and had sublet her apartment on Central Park West in New York City and her country home in Bedford, New York.
According to her spokesman, Dan Watt, Beatrice Arthur died peacefully at her home in the Greater Los Angeles Area in the early morning hours of April 25, 2009, aged 86. She had been suffering from cancer, but Watt declined to go into specific details.
In addition to her sons, she is survived by a sister who lives in Montreal, Quebec, and two granddaughters.