McClanahan was born in Healdton, OK to her father William, a building contractor, and her mother, Dreda Rheuna-Nell, a beautician. Stage struck from an early age, she headed to New York after graduating cum laude from the University of Tulsa. Small roles followed in theater, as well as parts in low-budget features like "Walk the Angry Beach" (1968). McClanahan also enjoyed stints on such soap operas as "Another World" (CBS, 1964-1999) and "Where the Heart Is" (CBS, 1969-1973). A part in the Broadway production of "Jimmy Shine," starring Dustin Hoffman, was followed by an OBIE-winning part in an episode of "Great Performances" (PBS, 1972-) called "Who's Happy Now?" After more than a decade as a working actress, Hollywood began taking notice of McClanahan's unique delivery and screen presence. She won small roles in several feature films, including "The People Next Door" (1970) and "The Pursuit of Happiness" (1971). In a moment that would change both her life and career, the actress caught the attention of legendary TV producer Norman Lear who cast her as friend and neighbor to Beatrice Arthur's "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78). McClanahan's role of Vivian was a bit of an ditz, but endowed with a mature sexuality that matched perfectly with Arthur's acerbic Maude. Following the cancellation of the beloved and controversial sitcom, Lear handed McClanahan the lead in "Apple Pie," a short-lived 1978 ABC series. Out of weekly work once again, McClanahan began appearing in a series of TV movies including "Rainbow" (NBC, 1978) and "Sergeant Matlovich vs. The U.S. Air Force" (NBC, 1978) in which she was the mother of gay activist Leonard Matlovich. McClanahan also joined "Mama's Family" (NBC, 1983-84) as Aunt Fran, the spinster sister of Mama (Vicki Lawrence). Unhappy with the role, McClanahan left the series after one season.When the production company, Witt-Thomas-Harris was preparing a pilot for NBC about three ladies of a certain age living in Miami, FL called "The Golden Girls," McClanahan was offered the role of the dim-witted Rose Nylund. At the same time, fellow sitcom veteran Betty White had been offered the role of Blanche Devereaux, the man-hungry vixen. Both women felt they were better suited for each other's part, so with the network's approval, switched roles. McClanahan became Blanche, the honey-talking, seductive, vain, self-absorbed, man-prowling, but lovable landlord of the Golden Girls who never failed to bring every conversation around to something sexual in nature. For her work, McClanahan snagged an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1987. With the surprise success of "The Golden Girls," McClanahan's popularity soared and she found herself in demand for parts in numerous TV movies. By the late 1980s, she was starring in one and often two TV-movies a season, including "Liberace" (ABC, 1988) as the performer's mother, and "Take My Daughters, Please" (NBC, 1988) as a woman who attempts to find mates for her girls. In 1990, McClanahan created the role of Margaret Hix Becker in "Children of the Bride" (CBS, 1990) as a woman who marries a younger man. She reprised the role in two sequels: "Baby of the Bride" (CBS, 1991), in which she found herself pregnant, and "Mother of the Bride" (CBS, 1993), in which she coped with her daughter's impending marriage. She also appeared in the miniseries "Innocent Victims" (ABC, 1996) as the mother of a man (John Corbett) accused of murder.When "The Golden Girls" ended its run with the departure of Arthur, McClanahan joined the other regulars by moving to a new format on CBS' "Golden Palace" (1992-93) which failed to capture the popularity of the original series. Returning to her theatrical roots, McClanahan co-starred in the musical "Nunsense" and its sequel "Nunsense 2" (A&E, 1995). The same year, she returned to the New York stage to co-star with Barbara Barrie in Anne Meara's "After-Play." McClanahan left the role when the production transferred to a larger venue to accept a role in an English production of "Harvey." She jump-started her feature career in 1997 with roles as the shrewish mother of possibly incestuous twins in the noirish indie, "This World, Then the Fireworks" (1997) and as a wealthy socialite on a cruise who takes dance lessons from faux teacher Walter Matthau in the genial comedy, "Out to Sea" (1997). Also in 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer, from which she made a full recovery. She continued to work her magic in small roles on TV like on the sitcom "Hope & Faith" (ABC, 2003-06) and in movies like "Starship Troopers" (1997) and "The Fighting Temptations" (2003). She did an eight-month stint on Broadway as Madame Morrible in the smash hit "Wicked," as well as released her autobiography, My First Five Husbands to good reviews in 2007. Embraced as a gay icon, McClanahan took a major role on the cable series "Sordid Lives: The Series" (Logo, 2008), and publicly mourned the deaths of her longtime "Golden" co-stars Estelle Getty in 2008 and Bea Arthur in April 2009. Later that year, McClanahan was scheduled to be feted at "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" in San Francisco, but the event was postponed when the actress had to be hospitalized. She endured triple bypass surgery, then a minor stroke, but seemed to be on the road to recovery. As Betty White experienced a career resurgence based in part on warm public memories of "The Golden Girls," she spoke often and fondly about McClanahan and her improving condition. Sadly, McClanahan died June 3, 2010 of a stroke, leaving White the sole survivor of the famous cheesecake-loving clan.