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'Golden Girls' Pay Tribute to Arthur

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Apr 27, 2009 | 4:07am EDT

Veteran actresses Betty White and Rue McClanahan have paid tribute to their Golden Girls co-star Bea Arthur, who died on Saturday.

The actress passed away peacefully in her sleep at her Los Angeles home after losing her battle with cancer at age 86, according to personal assistant Dan Watt.

Arthur, who starred on the hit show from 1985 until 1992, won an Emmy Award for her role as Dorothy Zbornak in the sitcom, which chronicled the lives of three retirees in Miami.

And co-stars White and McClanahan fondly recall the seven happy years they spent with Arthur on the series.

McClanahan tells Entertainment Tonight, "(Thirty-seven) years ago she showed me how to be very brave in playing comedy. I'll miss that courage. And I'll miss that voice."

White adds, "I knew it would hurt, I just didn't know it would hurt this much. I'm so happy that she received her Lifetime Achievement Award while she was still with us, so she could appreciate that.

"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. How lucky I was to know her."

Born in 1922, Arthur grew up in New York and earned a degree as a medical laboratory technician, before enrolling in a drama course at the New School of Social Research in the city.

She shot to fame in her twenties with numerous stage roles and won critical acclaim for her performance in a 1964 production of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway.

Arthur also landed a Tony Award for her turn as Vera Charles in 1966 musical Mame -- and composer Jerry Herman was taken aback by her natural acting ability and comic timing.

He says, "There was no one else like Bea. She would make us laugh during Mame rehearsals with a look or with a word. She didn't need dialogue. I don't know if I can say that about any other person I ever worked with."

The actress moved on to television in her fifties and won the starring role in 1970s show Maude, for which she also won a coveted Emmy Award, before landing her part in The Golden Girls.

Arthur married twice -- first to producer and director Robert Alan Aurthur and then to director Gene Saks from 1950 to 1978. The couple adopted two sons.

She is survived by a sister, her children Matthew and Daniel and two granddaughters.

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