Page last updated at 21:12 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 22:12 UK

Golden Girls star Bea dies at 86

Bea Arthur in The Golden Girls

The death of popular actress Bea Arthur, who starred in the US television sitcom The Golden Girls, has been reported in Los Angeles.

Arthur, who played the on-screen daughter to the late Estelle Getty, died at home of cancer at the age of 86, a family spokesman said.

She was also famous for the sitcom Maude, first creating the character in the comedy series All In The Family.

Arthur also won an Tony Award for the musical Mame.

The tall, deep-voiced actress's razor-sharp delivery of comedy lines made her a TV star, the Associated Press news agency notes.

She won Emmy Awards for both The Golden Girls and Maude.

Dan Watt, her personal assistant for six years, announced the death, saying she had died peacefully.

"She was a brilliant and witty woman," he recalled.

"Bea will always have a special place in my heart."

The 'new girl'

Arthur first appeared in All In The Family as Edith Bunker's loudly outspoken, liberal cousin, Maude Finley.

An undated photos shows the Golden Girls: (clockwise from left) Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty
"Miami Nice" with The Golden Girls

She proved a perfect foil for blue-collar bigot Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), and their blistering exchanges were so entertaining that producer Norman Lear fashioned Arthur's own series.

In a 2008 interview with AP, Arthur said she had been lucky to be discovered by TV after a long stage career, recalling with bemusement CBS executives asking about the new "girl".

"I was already 50 years old," she said.

"I had done so much off Broadway, on Broadway, but they said: 'Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series.'"

Maude was an instant hit when it aired in September 1972.

Golden Girls (1985-1992) was another groundbreaking comedy, finding surprising success in a television market increasingly skewed toward a younger audience.

The series concerned three retirees - Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan - and the mother of Arthur's character, Estelle Getty, who lived together in a Miami apartment.

In contrast to the violent Miami Vice, the comedy was nicknamed Miami Nice, AP recalls.

As Dorothy Zbornak, Arthur seemed as caustic and domineering as Maude.

She was unconcerned about the similarity of the two roles.

"Look, I'm five feet nine [1.75m], I have a deep voice and I have a way with a line," she told an interviewer.

"What can I do about it? I can't stay home waiting for something different. I think it's a total waste of energy worrying about typecasting."

Tall at 12

Her work has inspired me. I learned that there is nothing to fear in ageing, that it is attractive to be an intelligent woman with a sharp tongue, and that a little humour can brighten any day.
Janiene Langford, Santa Barbara, USA

Arthur was born Bernice Frankel in New York City in 1922 and when she was 11 her family moved to Cambridge, Maryland, where her father opened a clothing store.

At 12 she had grown to full height, but she dreamed of being a petite blond movie star like June Allyson.

One advantage of being tall and deep-voiced, however, was that she was chosen for the male roles in school plays.

After an early, brief marriage which gave her the name Arthur, she married Broadway actor and future Tony-winning director Gene Saks in 1950, with whom she had two sons.

They divorced in 1978.

The actress is survived by her sons and two granddaughters.

Bea Arthur: Your memories
25 Apr 09 |  Entertainment
Golden Girls pay tribute to Getty
23 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
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