February 21, 1934
Healdton, Oklahoma, U.S.
McClanahan was born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Oklahoma, the daughter of Dreda Rheua-Nell (née Medaris), a beautician, and William Edwin McClanahan, a building contractor. She is of Irish and Choctaw Indian ancestry, and grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma; she graduated from Ardmore High School. At the University of Tulsa, she majored in German and theater and was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta.
She began acting on Off-Broadway in New York City in 1957, but did not make her Broadway debut until 1969 when she portrayed Sally Weber in the original production of John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical, Jimmy Shine, with Dustin Hoffman in the title role.
Her role as Caroline Johnson on Another World (from July 1970 - September 1971) brought her notoriety. On the show, while taking care of twins Michael and Marianne Randolph, Caroline fell in love with their father, John, and began poisoning their mother, Pat. The short-term role was extended to more than a year before Caroline was finally brought to justice after kidnapping the twins. Once her role on Another World ended, Rue joined the cast of the CBS soap Where the Heart Is, in which she played Margaret Jardin.
In The Golden Girls, broadcast from 1985 until 1992 and in The Golden Palace for one year afterwards, McClanahan portrayed man-crazed Southern belle Blanche Devereaux. Devereaux was the owner of a house inhabited by three roommates: herself, Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). She received an Emmy Award in 1987 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on The Golden Girls.
She also appeared as a leader of Al-Anon in a 1970's informational video called "Slight Drinking Problem," in which Patty Duke played the enabling and eventually self-empowered wife of an alcoholic.
McClanahan starred in 1961's The Rotten Apple, as well as Walk the Angry Beach in 1968. In 1971 she played a vicious fag hag in the film Some of My Best Friends Are... which was set in a gay bar. On May 31 2005, McClanahan took over the role of Madame Morrible in the hit Broadway musical Wicked, for which she received mixed reviews. She did, however, receive a positive notice from the New York Times:
A lifelong animal welfare advocate and vegetarian, McClanahan was one of the first celebrity supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). A Democrat, in December 2003, she wrote a letter informing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry that his pheasant hunting had cost him her vote, which went to Ralph Nader instead. In 2008, she endorsed Barack Obama.
In 2003 she appeared in the musical romantic comedy The Fighting Temptations as Nancy Stringer, which co-starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps and Steve Harvey. She replaced Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible in the musical Wicked on May 31, 2005. She played the role for eight months and departed the cast on January 8, 2006. She was replaced by Carol Kane on January 10, 2006.
Her autobiography, My First Five Husbands, was released nationwide in 2007. She has one child - a son named Mark Bish - by her first marriage.
In June 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the 'Pop Culture' award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Rue accepted the award with co-stars Bea Arthur and Betty White. McClanahan is the aunt of author Amelia Kinkade and inventor Sean Kinkade.
McClanahan's last acting role was in the cable series Sordid Lives on the Logo network, which premiered July 23, 2008, playing Peggy Ingram, the older sister of Sissy Hickey and mother of Latrelle, LaVonda and Earl "Brother Boy".
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1997, from which she completely recovered.
On November 14, 2009 she was to be honored for her lifetime achievements at an event "Golden: A Gala Tribute To Rue McClanahan" at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, California. - The event was postponed due to McClanahan's hospitalization. She had triple bypass surgery on November 4. It was announced on January 14, 2010 by Entertainment Tonight that while recovering from surgery she had suffered a minor stroke.
Obie Awards (Off-Broadway):