Actress Beatrice (Bea) Arthur, who starred in the popular Maude and Golden Girls TV series, died Saturday at age 86, according to her family.
The gravelly voiced performer with the deadpan delivery won Emmys for her roles in both series, which were also critically acclaimed.
Arthur died peacefully at her Los Angeles home with her family at her side, family spokesman Dan Watt said. She had cancer, Watt said, but gave no other details.
"She was a brilliant and witty woman," said Watt, who was Arthur's personal assistant for six years.
Arthur's Golden Girls castmates say they will miss the irreverent performer.
"I'll miss that courage and I'll miss that voice," Rue McClanahan said in a statement.
"Bea was such an important part of a very happy time in my life and I have dearly loved her for a very long time," Betty White said in a statement also released late Saturday. "How lucky I was to know her."
Arthur was born Bernice Frankel to Philip and Rebecca Frankel in New York City on May 13, 1922. The family soon moved to Maryland and Arthur attended college in Blackstone, Va., becoming a medical technologist for a few years.
In the late 1940s, Arthur was living in New York City, where she was a member of an off-Broadway troupe at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
She had a brief marriage to screenwriter Robert Alan Aurthur, and a version of his last name supplied Beatrice Arthur's stage name.
In 1950, she married again, to Broadway actor and future Tony-winning director Gene Saks. They divorced in 1978.
Arthur soon carved out a career on stage, appearing in the 1954 off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein's English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera and taking a role in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway.
Arthur captured a Tony Award in 1966 for her portrayal of Vera Charles in Mame, reprising the role for the 1974 film starring Lucille Ball.
In 1999, Arthur memorably credited three people for influencing her career: "Sid Caesar taught me the outrageous; [method acting guru] Lee Strasberg taught me what I call reality; and [singer and actress] Lotte Lenya, whom I adored, taught me economy."
Appearance in 'All in the Family' leads to spinoff
Arthur first appeared on TV in the landmark comedy series All in the Family as Edith Bunker's loudly outspoken, liberal cousin Maude Findlay.
In 1972, Arthur took that character to a spinoff series, Maude. Maude lived in an affluent community with her husband Walter (Bill Macy) and divorced daughter Carol (Adrienne Barbeau).
The groundbreaking show touched on many taboo topics including abortion and sexuality.
Arthur's role garnered several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, including her Emmy win in 1977 for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series.
In a 2008 interview, Arthur said she was lucky to be discovered by TV after a long stage career.
"I was already 50 years old. I had done so much off-Broadway, on Broadway, but they said, 'Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series,"' Arthur noted.
Garners another Emmy on 'Golden Girls'
Arthur then moved onto another hit series, The Golden Girls,in 1985, portraying Dorothy Zbornak, a divorced substitute teacher living in a Miami, Fla., house owned by Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan). Dorothy's mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), and the widow Rose Nylund (Betty White) were Dorothy's housemates.
The show remained a Top 10 ratings fixture for six seasons, collecting 10 Emmys, including two as best comedy series and individual awards for each of the stars, one for Arthur in 1988.
After seven years, Arthur decided to leave the show.
After the series, she appeared in guest spots on TV, showing up as Larry David's mother on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
She returned to Broadway in 2002, starring in Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, a collection of stories and songs based on her life.
Her movie credits include That Kind of Woman (1959), Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), Mel Brooks' The History of the World: Part I (1981) and For Better or Worse (1995).
Arthur was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2008.