It’s taken me a few days to feel ready to post about the passing of Bea Arthur. If you know me personally, or you’re a regular reader, it’s probably clear how much I love Bea (DorothyZbornak is my internet pen name, after all). So, her passing on Saturday at age 86 after a bout with cancer was both shocking and devastating to me. It also marked the end of a dream since I really wanted to meet her or see her live before she died.
Anyway, in memory of Bea and her amazing life and career, let’s take a look back at the woman who brought so much joy and entertainment to so many lives.
Bea was born Bernice Frankel in New York City but raised in Maryland, where her parents ran a women’s clothing store. She debuted on the Off Broadway stage in New York in the 1940s, finding success in the 1960s with her roles in Fiddler on the Roof and Mame.
Married and divorced twice, Arthur took her stage name (in part) from her first husband, the screenwriter, director and producer Robert Alan Aurthur. With second husband, Mame director Gene Saks, she adopted two sons, Matthew, 47, and Daniel, 44, who survive her.
During the 1970s, she broke new ground in television as the title character on Maude. In the role, Arthur addressed social issues such as abortion and civil rights with an air of strength and feminism.
During the 1980s, Arthur took on what’s arguably her most beloved role—the sharp-tongued substitute teacher, Dorothy Zbornak. On The Golden Girls, Arthur was the linchpin of a group of friends living together in Miami. Her dry delivery and snappy one-liners helped make the show one of the most hilarious and enduring (i.e. THE BEST EVER!!) comedies of all time.
Bea was nominated for four Emmys on The Golden Girls, and won in 1989. She also won an Emmy for her role on Maude, and was nominated for eight Golden Globes, four for The Golden Girls and four for Maude.
In recent years, Bea traveled the country performing a one-woman show, appeared on several other television shows (such as Malcolm in the Middle, for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 2000) and made appearances on countless award and tribute shows. For a woman in what many consider to be the “twilight years” of her life, she continued to live fully and work hard spreading her gift of performance to as many audiences as possible.
For me, her loss is great and one that I won’t be over for a long time. It almost feels like losing a sassy grandmother, you know? As I sort through my sadness though, I know I’ll have Bea’s help, laughing through the pain at The Golden Girls, as well as her other performances through the years. I invite you to do the same with the following clips. R.I.P., Bea Arthur.