What Happened To Them?: The Cast of ‘The Golden Girls' Karen Belz

In choosing to feature the cast of The Golden Girls this week, I’m totally anticipating at least one Facebook comment of “Most of them died, duh!” Yes – it’s true. Three out of four of the amazing ladies on the show have since passed on. (And have more tact, possible commentator! Sheesh.) However, I think it’s really important to highlight the fantastic careers they’ve had. Each of the female leads were nominated for, and won, an Emmy – making it one of only three sitcoms in the award’s history to achieve this feat. Plus, think of how many shows you can think of which primarily featured women – not too many, right?

The show aired from 1985 to 1992, and was followed by The Golden Palace, which starred three of the four women. Sadly, the spin-off only lasted a season.

So let’s talk about what these amazing ladies did after The Golden Girls wrapped up!

Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak

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Dorothy was a teen mom who married her baby’s father, Stanley, to have it end in divorce 38 years later. Bea got her start by playing Maude Findlay on the 1970′s sitcom All in the Family, and her character was so popular that she was granted her own show that same decade, named Maude.

The latter was famous for bringing heavy topics to light on screen, such as mental illness, abortion, divorce, and spousal abuse. As abortion was illegal in all states except for New York at the time, dozens of affiliates refused to broadcast the episode in which Maude faced a late-in-life pregnancy and chose the controversial procedure. Two months after it aired, abortion was legalized nationwide due to the Roe v. Wade outcome.

Bea was the Golden Girls lead who decided not to continue with the spin-off, and instead opted to perform a few one-woman shows, titled An Evening with Bea Arthur and And Then There’s Bea. In 2002, she returned to Broadway starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends – but in-between, earned yet another Emmy nomination for a guest starring role on a season one episode of Malcolm in the Middle.

Bea was also heavily involved with PETA since 1987, and was also known for her influences towards civil rights for women, the elderly, and the Jewish and LGBT communities.

She passed away on April 25th, 2009 after a battle with cancer. In her will, she put $300,000 towards The Ali Forney Center, which has helped provide housing for homeless LGBT youths since 2002. Here’s one of her final appearances – a roast for Pamela Anderson (which probably isn’t safe for work.)

Betty White as Rose Nylund

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Rose found her way into the Golden Girls house after the passing of her husband, Charlie Nylund.

Betty holds many awards, but one of the most notable was granted this year by the Guinness Book of World Records, who named her the female entertainer with the longest television career.

Betty got the acting bug after writing and starring in a graduation play at Horace Mann School in Beverly Hills. That being said, her career began in radio. She had her own radio show, called “The Betty White Show” in the 1940′s and later co-hosted with Al Jarvis on his daily, live variety show Hollywood on Television on KLAC in Los Angeles. This lead to her own talk show in front of the camera in 1954, also called The Betty White Show, on NBC. Her first movie role was in a 1962 drama called Advise & Consent.

You also can’t forget about Betty’s numerous appearances on daytime game shows, like Password. She made such an impression on Password that she ended up marrying the host, Allen Ludden, in 1963.

In 1973, a one-off performance on The Mary Tyler Moore show as Sue Ann Nivens lead to a full-time opportunity. After landing Golden Girls in 1985, she was the only cast member to be nominated in the Best Actress category every single year – and she won, during the first season!

After The Golden Palace, Betty appeared in a bunch of sitcoms – including Malcolm in the Middle, like Bea. (Not the same episode, unfortunately.) You might remember her role in the 1999 movie Lake Placid. She’s also lent her voice for a few animated series, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of the Hill.

From 2005 to 2008, Betty had a recurring role on Boston Legal. She then appeared in the 2009 motion picture The Proposal, alongside Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. And then, 2010 happened.

2010 was a big year for Betty, and proof that Facebook campaigns aren’t for naught. After someone lobbied for her to host Saturday Night Live, Lorne and the team took note and booked her for their May 8th show. Not only was it the most watched episode of SNL, but it made Betty the oldest host in the history of the show, and earned her (yet another) Emmy.

That same year, she starred in the show Hot in Cleveland. She’s currently hosting the show Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, and also voiced Grammy Norma in the 2012 film The Lorax.

Like Bea, Betty loves her animals. Since 1974, she’s been on the board for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, and was a presenter at the 2011 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards ceremony.

Her most recent acting role has been playing God in an episode of Save Me this season. We salute you, Betty White.

Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux

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Blanche was a rich girl with Southern charm. Her charm might have been the reason why she had so many male suitors after the death of her husband. Seriously. Blanche was a scandalous broad!

Rue got her start on stage, starring in off Broadway productions before her Broadway debut in 1969, when she portrayed Sally Weber in the musical Jimmy Shine, starring alongside Dustin Hoffman. She moved onto two soap operas afterward, Another World and Where The Heart Is. It was her next role that introduced her to Bea Arthur – Rue played Maude’s best friend, Vivian Harmon, on Maude. Perhaps it was her chemistry with Bea that brought the two of them to The Golden Girls.

Rue wasn’t opposed to children’s television, despite the racy roles she became known to play. In 1999, she played the role of Steve’s grandmother in the Blue’s Clues video Blue’s Big Treasure Hunt. Prior to, in 1994, she voiced Anastasia Hardy in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. She also continued her work on the stage, playing Madame Morrible in Wicked in 2005.

In November of 2009, Rue had a triple bypass surgery that caused her to suffer a small stroke. In June of 2010, she passed away due to a brain hemorrhage.

Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo

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Despite playing Dorothy’s mother, Estelle was actually younger than Bea. Props to the makeup department! Estelle might have had some of the best zingers on the show, which is a tough achievement to gain with the witty writers that the show employed.

Estelle Getty was born Estelle Sher, but created her stage name through her husband, Arthur Gettleman, whom she was married to until his death in 2004. While she had a few minor roles in shows like Newhart and Cagney and Lacey, The Golden Girls was her first big series. After The Golden Palace didn’t impress the critics, she moved on to another series, called Empty Nest. In 1997 she played Betty Weston in the TV movie A Match Made in Heaven, had a bit part in 1999′s Stuart Little, and wrapped up her career with an episode of a show called Ladies’ Man that reunited her with some of her fellow golden girls.

In 1991, she extended her heart out to her nephew Steven Scher, who at the age of 29, was close to the end with his battle with AIDS. Since his parents were in another country, Estelle flew Steven to California where she admitted him to hospice care. Unfortunately, he passed away in January of 1992, but the experience made her a vocal supporter of gay rights and an active fundraiser for AIDS research for the rest of her life.

Getty died in 2008 from Lewy Body Dementia just three short days before her 85th birthday.

In short, these women did more than cause my sweet-as-pie grandmother to completely ignore me for a half hour during new episodes – they helped pave the way for many other female comedians who learned that it’s okay to be a bit edgy with their craft. What are some of your favorite moments from The Golden Girls?

Featured image via gstatic.com

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  1. My mum used to watch this a lot and sometimes I used to watch it with her. It is so sad that three of them have died. I really liked them. Thank you for posting this article about a show most people forgotten about. It was lovely to read about them. xoxo

  2. Dorothy had a lesbian friend, Jean, who had a crush on Rose. It was handled beautifully as I remember. Rose told her how honored she was that she (Jean) felt this way toward her because of what an outstanding woman Jean was. Rose assured Jean that she was such a good catch that she would find someone one day. I was very pleased with that episode. I hope they were too. I wish I could recall exactly what Rose said to Jean. It was so sweet and could have been said to anyone hearing from someone who had a crush on them.

  3. Rue was fantastic in the TV series “Sordid Lives”!
    http://youtu.be/ZXrGnXj7_Jw

  4. I ADORE this show. I’m actually even wearing my “Stay Golden” shirt today… :D
    http://www.thisnext.com/item/D850F304/Womens-Stay-Golden-Tee

  5. Love this show so much :) it was edgy but it was healthy fun.

  6. Thanks so much for this article! I’m a huge fan of Golden Girls, mostly because it’s a show about women, and demonstrating that any people – men or women – have a lot to experience and learn even as they age. My favorite episode was probably the one where Rose thought she might have AIDS because her blood transfer may have been contaminated – a huuuge issue at the time, and it showed how AIDS wasn’t only for gay men while tackling a lot of the emotional issues that came from it, including the idea that Blanche, the most sexually interesting, “deserved” or “should” have it more than “someone like Rose”. Excellent writing and acting, and I wish everyone treasured it as much as you and I do!