By Kate Ward
Updated June 03, 2010 at 04:47 PM EDT

Friends and co-stars of Rue McClanahan have begun pouring out their tributes to the late actress. Read below to see what some of the actress’ best pals had to say about the Golden Girl.

Betty White, who co-starred with McClanahan on Golden Girls: “Rue was a close and dear friend. I treasured our relationship. It hurts more than I even thought it would, if that’s possible.”

Paul Junger Witt, executive producer of Golden Girls: “When a series is on as long as we were, with the same unit of people who have worked together for seven to eight years, you do become a family. A loss becomes very personal. It’s a very sad day. When shows come to an end, that’s a period of mourning. But to lose the ladies that we have — we still have Betty, thank God, who’s a treasure. But it’s a real loss. The afterlife of the show has been so extraordinary. Women are still visiting [the show] in their living rooms all over the world. Watching the four of those ladies work was certainly the highlight of those years. Every day to get to watch these four consummate performers, there’s nothing like it. She was an intuitively funny person. She was a force of joy for all of us. And we miss her already.”

Norman Lear, creator of All in the Family and Maude: “I saw her off-Broadway and I brought her out here for Maude. This was one of the loveliest, funniest, most grounded…I don’t have good enough words for her. There are wonderful actors who can do comedy, and there are wonderful actors who can do comedy who are also funny. Rue was funny walking into a room. Her earlobes were funny. Her knuckles were funny. She was just funny.”

Vicki Lawrence, who starred alongside McClanahan on Mama’s Family: “Rue was a consummate professional, an actors’ actor. It was my good fortune to get the chance to work with her during the first season-and-a-half of Mama’s Family. When she got stolen away from Mama’s Family to do The Golden Girls, I cried.”

Marc Cherry, Desperate Housewives creator and one-time writer for The Golden Girls: “When I worked on The Golden Girls, my favorite character to write for was Blanche Devereaux. In the hands of lesser actresses, Blanche’s vanity and sexual appetite would have been off-putting. But in Rue’s brilliant hands, that character became one of the most beloved in the history of TV. Rue’s kindness, generosity, and enormous talent will be sorely missed.”

Leslie Jordan, who co-starred with McClanahan on Logo’s Sordid Lives: The Series: “I got really close in the twilight of Rue’s life. She’s one of the true Southern ladies. She showed up in Shreveport, La. to play my mother on the series Sordid Lives with a portable sewing machine, and she wanted to make her own hats. She just said, ‘I just think that this lady would have made beautiful Sunday hats.’ We got so close, though, Rue and I. We did a tour of comedy from the show. She was in a wheelchair, I think after a hip replacement, and rather than stand-up comedy, she called it sit-down comedy. Honey, we wheeled her out [and] I thought we were going to have to get the hook! We said, ‘You have 20 minutes.’ Well, she had that audience on the palm of her hands. From the moment they wheeled her out. I thought, how are we going to get her off the stage? It was watching a master at her craft. She was Southern, and a storyteller, and she had a story for any occasion. Oh, she was something. One night, she came to me and said, ‘I just had a fight with my husband.’ I said, ‘About what, Rue?’ She was very upset, she said, ‘Well, we were watching Everyone Loves Raymond, and my husband said that he liked Patricia Heaton’s acting. And I said, yes, she’s a good actress, but her posture is terrible. And my husband said, “Oh, you always have something to say.” But I was just commenting that a lady should have good posture!’ So she’s fighting with her husband about Patricia Heaton’s posture. And I thought, that’s Rue right there. There are ways we handle ourselves. You can be a wonderful actress, but you have to have good posture as well. She was a lady, but she was a bawdy lady too. She could get down with the best of us. She was filthy. She will really be missed.”

Olivia Newton-John, who starred with McClanahan in Sordid Lives: The Series: “Rue was a very special woman with incredible spirit and spunk. She was a consummate professional — fearless and brave and very giving to her fellow actors. Before we began filming Sordid Lives, I was a bit intimidated to work with her, but she really embraced me and taught me a lot — showing me trust and confidence. A woman full of life, love, and energy, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be one of the last to work with her. I am sad that we won’t share each other’s company again. My thoughts are with her family.”

Beth Grant, who starred with McClanahan in Sordid Lives: The Series, and Golden Girls: “I loved her so much. I did a play called Picnic in Los Angeles with her [years ago], and she played the mom. It was my first big break. And she was so kind to me. And we did an out-of-town try-out in Denver, and I had told her that when I was a little girl, I had always wanted to go to Mardi Gras, because a lot of my friends had gone, and they had come back with these crystal beads, and how I always wanted those crystal beads. So opening night in Denver, she gave me the most gorgeous crystal beads that you have ever seen. I still have them. And she had forgotten all about it. When we did Sordid Lives, I reminded her. For her to bring that magic to it by remembering this silly little story I told, it was so special. It sounds so cliche, but she was the consummate professional. She had the best timing in the world, playing Blanche — as a southerner, believe me — to perfection. Her timing was so great. You could just feel if there was a funny moment coming on, she could send out a vibe to let you know to hold or to jump in. She could lead you to good timing as well. She was a comic genius. She really was. In every way. I miss her so much right now. She’s a magical person to me. I’m going to wear my crystal beads today, that’s what I’ve decided.”

Dustin Hoffman, who starred alongside McClanahan in the Broadway production of Jimmy Shine: “I have fond memories of working with Rue on Broadway in the ’60s, and I am saddened by her passing. My thoughts are with her family and friends.”

Caroline Rhea, who starred alongside McClanahan in Sordid Lives: The Series: “I am very sad today about my dear friend Rue. I still cannot believe that I was lucky enough to have worked with her and have her as my friend. She was a comedic Goddess with the most impeccable timing. I will always treasure the time that I got to spend with her.”

Ben Vereen, who starred alongside McClanahan in Broadway’s Wicked: “We have to celebrate the joy that she brought us. The life. I’m just so grateful that she touched my life, and for the time we had doing Wicked together. I admired her for so many years. And then there I was on stage with her. So I’m celebrating the life [and] the treasure that she is. And I say is, because she’s with us no more than she’ll ever be, because she’s with us in spirit. She was so loving in her humanness. You couldn’t help but want to be near her and feel her radiance and warmth.”

Mike Epps, who co-starred with McClanahan in The Fighting Temptations: “She was a real golden girl. She will be truly missed.”

PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews (McClanahan helped establish PETA in Hollywood, and served as honorary director for three decades): “If animals had a voice, they’d sing to Rue the theme from The Golden Girls: ‘Thank You For Being a Friend.'” (Additional tribute posted here.)

Marlee Matlin, via Twitter: “Ah beloved Blanche passes away – Rue McClanahan RIP. She was so lovely and such a spitfire. It’s just Rose now.”

Adam Ruggiero, via Twitter: “RIP rue mcclanahan. only 76. the gays world wide will continue to celebrate Blanche Deveraux. you will always be our Golden Girl. xoxoxo…my fav Rue MccLanahan GG episode ‘Adult Education.’ Here’s where I fell in love with Blanch.

Mandy Moore, via Twitter: “RIP rue mcclanahan. sending love and prayers to her loved ones….”

Rose McGowan, via Twitter: “Oh no! I’m tearing up! Rue McLanahan has died. She was my favorite Golden Girl. It’s a sad, sad day. :((((“

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