Best known to British audiences as the dominating, husky-voiced Dorothy in The Golden Girls, Bea Arthur had a long and illustrious theatre career before television brought her international fame in the seventies as Maude, the controversial spin-off from the American re-make of Till Death Us Do Part, a role that gave her the first of three Emmy Awards.
Born Bernice Frankel on May 13, 1922, in New York, Arthur studied with Erwin Piscator and moved quickly from off-Broadway to the Great White Way, premiering the role of Yentel the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, and winning a Tony Award two years later playing opposite Angela Lansbury in Mame, a performance she repeated opposite Lucille Ball in the 1974 film version.
After a seven-year run of Maude, Arthur played a female version of Basil Fawlty in the short-lived American take on Fawlty Towers, Amanda’s, before The Golden Girls threw her back into the spotlight.
Arthur was a regular visitor to London theatres, memorably reuniting with Angela Lansbury to sing Bosom Buddies at a fundraising gala at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1990 and impersonating Sophie Tucker at the following year’s 80th anniversary celebrations for the London Palladium. She returned there in 1997 for a tribute to Jule Styne. She was last seen in the capital at the Savoy Theatre in 2003 with her own autobiographical one-woman show.
Twice married, she died at her home in Los Angeles on April 25 from cancer, aged 86. She is survived by her second husband, the stage and film director Gene Saks, their two adopted sons and two granddaughters.