Charlotte Rae’s death has sparked an outpouring of condolences from celebrities and fans.
The actress, best known as wise and lovable house mother Mrs. Garrett on The Facts of Life, died Sunday at her home in Los Angeles, representatives for the actress confirmed. She was 92.
Kim Fields, who portrayed Dorothy “Tootie” Ramsey on the hit sitcom, was one of the first to express her grief, writing on Twitter, “You all already know my heart is heavy yet…. sorry, no words at the moment just love and tears… and yeah, smiles…. #charlotterae #ripcharlotterae.”
Todd Bridges, who famously played young Willis Jackson along Rae’s Mrs. Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes, paid tribute to all of his late costars: “RIP IN PEACE ALL OF MY CAST MATES. I MISS YOU ALL.”
Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie Green on The Facts of Life, wrote a tribute to the late actress on Instagram. “It’s with a heavy heart & tears (but a smile as i think of her) that I now move through the world without this incredible force of a woman being it. she was my champion, a teacher, a proud example of the tenacity and perseverance needed to live as a creative, along with your talent and gifts. i love you char. as I send sympathies to Larry and the rest of the family, I wish you the happiest of homecomings,” she wrote.
Comedian Larry Wilmore also shared his thoughts on social media, where he posted a video of himself playing a cop on an old episode of The Facts of Life.
Comedians Kathy Griffin and Gilbert Gottfried, as well as Broadway star Audra McDonald, also paid their respects via social media.
Rae revealed she’d been diagnosed with bone cancer at the end of April 2017. “Last Monday, I found out I have bone cancer,” she said in a statement. “About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer — which is a miracle that they found it because usually, it’s too late. My mother, sister, and my uncle died of pancreatic cancer. After six months of chemotherapy, I was cancer-free. I lost my hair, but I had beautiful wigs. Nobody ever knew. So now, at the age of 91, I have to make up my mind. I’m not in any pain right now. I’m feeling so terrific and so glad to be above ground. Now I have to figure out whether I want to go have treatment again or opt for life. I love life,” she continued. “I’ve had a wonderful one already. I have this decision to make.”
Rae played the kooky but kind housekeeper Edna Garrett (unmissable thanks to that mound of bright orange hair) on Diff’rent Strokes, and when she became a popular breakout character, Rae herself proposed a spin-off. That spin-off became The Facts of Life, a sitcom about a girls’ boarding school and their (once again) kooky and kind house mother. Rae’s Mrs. Garrett (or Mrs. G, as Nancy McKeon’s Jo liked to call her) helped guide the girls through every very special episode theme imaginable, from depression to dating, AIDS to alcohol. Rae left the show in 1986 for health reasons, and though Cloris Leachman stepped in as Mrs. Garrett’s sister, the show was canceled two years later.
The actress went on to guest star on TV shows like ER, Pretty Little Liars, Sisters, and The King of Queens, and appeared in movies such as Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Her final regular gig was voicing “Nanny” in the animated 101 Dalmations: The Series, which aired from 1997-98.
Rae shared many of her Hollywood experiences — including 44 years of sobriety and discovering that her husband, John Strauss, was bisexual — in her memoir, The Facts of My Life, released in 2015.
In her April 2017 statement, Rae also said, “At 91, every day is a birthday. [In my book] I want to tell everybody to celebrate every day, to savor the day and be good to yourself, love yourself, and then you can be good to others and be of service to others.”