Beatrice Arthur, one of the most beloved talents of the stage and small screen, died of cancer Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 86. Arthur will be best remembered as "Maude" and as Dorothy Zbornak in "The Golden Girls."
Her unfailing comedic timing and colossal voice became a television fixture after her debut on "All in the Family," portraying the liberated Maude Finley. Her appearances were so popular that producer Norman Lear created a series for her based on the character.
She became an overnight TV sensation as "Maude" at age 50, after a lengthy career in the theatre, most memorably as aging actress Vera Charles opposite Angela Lansbury in "Mame." She won an Emmy for "Maude" in 1977, with her character representing the concerns of a growing feminist movement. It ran six years.
She followed her success with another resounding achievement in "Golden Girls," centering on three retired women living in Florida and co-starring Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty as Arthur's mother -- they all won Emmys, as did the series. Getty died in July 2008.
She began her career in off-Broadway plays and TV dramas, and married twice, the second time to stage director Gene Saks. Her big break came as Yente the Matchmaker in the original "Fiddler on the Roof," followed by a highly acclaimed turn in "Mame." She appeared opposite Lucille Ball in the film version as well.
She played a clerk in the unemployment office in Mel Brooks' "The History of the World: Part I," but appeared in few films. In 2001, she toured in a one-woman show of her songs and experiences called "And Then There's Bea." Most recently, she appeared in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Malcolm in the Middle." "Futurama" fans remember her as the mighty Femputer in the "Amazon Women in the Mood" episode.
She divorced Saks in 1978; they had two sons, Matthew and Daniel, who survive her, along with two granddaughters.
Bea Arthur was inducted in the TV Academy Hall of Fame last year.