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'Golden Girl' Bea Arthur dead at 86

April 25, 2009 at 9:10 PM
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LOS ANGELES, April 25 (UPI) -- Bea Arthur, who went from supporting roles on Broadway to stardom in two groundbreaking TV sitcoms died Saturday in Los Angeles, a family spokesman said.

Arthur was 86, spokesman, Dan Watt, told The New York Times. He said she had cancer.

Born Bernice Frankel, Arthur dreamed as a girl in Cambridge, Md, of going on the stage. She changed her name to Beatrice because she thought it would look impressive on a theater marquee, the Times said.

Her Broadway musical roles included Lucy Brown in Kurt Weill's "Three-Penny Opera," Yente the Matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof" and Vera Charles in "Mame" -- a role that brought her a Tony Award.

In 1970, when she was visiting her then-husband, director Gene Saks, in Los Angeles, producer Norman Lear convinced her to appear in his hit TV show "All in the Family."

Arthur's character, Maude Findlay, soon got a spinoff show. In seven years, the show explored hot-button issues like abortion and women's rights -- "everything but hemorrhoids," Arthur said in a 2001 interview.

Arthur went on to "The Golden Girls," where she played Dorothy Zbornak, one of four older women sharing a house.

She was nominated for 11 Emmy Awards -- winning in 1988 for "The Golden Girls" and in 1977 for "Maude."

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