By Mandi Bierly
Updated June 03, 2010 at 05:42 PM EDT
Everett Collection

Image Credit: Everett CollectionIt’s hard to imagine that originally, producers asked Rue McClanahan to read for the role of Rose on The Golden Girls. They’d wanted Betty White to play Blanche, a part McClanahan knew she was perfect for. Luckily, pilot director Jay Sandrich agreed. “I said to [Rue], ‘You’re really wonderful, but I don’t believe for a second that you’re innocent. Would you read Blanche?'” he told EW in 2005, when the magazine did a 20th anniversary oral history of the show. “Ruesy took Blanche out into orbit where I never would have gone. She flew off like a butterfly with that role,” White said. McClanahan explained how: “I gave [Blanche] the assurance that my sister has always had: Walk into a group of men and just lay ’em low! I was using this phony accent that sounded like a cross between British and Southern and cornball.”

Today, you can’t turn on the TV without hearing the sound of McClanahan’s voice. Though she’s gone — McClanahan died this morning at age 76, following a massive stroke — she’ll continue to be there. In the morning, when you’re too tired or sick to get out of bed, and at night, when you need a good laugh to clear your mind before you drift off to sleep. Chances are, she’ll be saying something outlandish that costar Bea Arthur probably had to talk her into. “She taught me, by watching her, even back during Maude, to be outrageously courageous as a comedienne, to go out on a limb, to go farther than I’ve ever dreamed of going,” McClanahan told EW last year, when remembering the late Arthur. “Blanche had to say and do things that Rue found difficult. And it would always be Bea who said, ‘Oh say it! It’s funny!'” (Update: WE will air a “WE Remember Rue” marathon of the channel’s favorite Golden Girls episodes centering on Blanche Friday, from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET.)

What’s your favorite Blanche quip? Leave it below, and know that McClanahan knew how much you loved her. Whether you were young: “I got oodles of letters from kids who wanted to move in with us,” she told us in 2005. “My youngest fan was a 3-year-old who stopped me in an elevator. Now, you know that he wasn’t catching on to the double entendres.” Or slightly older: “I’ve got fan mail saying, ‘Thank you for allowing me to act and dress like I feel. Because in those days, when you were over 50, you were supposed to be wearing certain types of clothes and behaving a certain way. Women were writing saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you for the freedom, for the release, for the permission.'”

More Rue McClanahan:

Book review: ‘My First Five Husbands…and the Ones Who Got Away’ by Rue McClanahan (2007)