LOS ANGELES, CA — Actress Charlotte Rae, the gentle and wise matriarch of “The Facts of Life,” died of cancer Sunday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 92.
The actress’ long career was almost singly defined by her role as Mrs. Garrett, the housekeeper on “Diff’rent Strokes,” who’s popularity led to the spinoff “The Facts of Life,” where she played the benevolent matriarch of a girl’s bordering school. Rae was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2010, beating it only to reveal seven years later that she had bone cancer. Rae went peacefully at her home surrounded by family, her son Larry Strauss told CNN.
Her death sparked an outpouring from former co-stars and fans alike who were grateful for the soothing brand of wisdom she dished out as Mrs. Garrett.
“Different Strokes would not have been the same without you #CharlotteRae,” “Diff’rent Strokes” co-star Todd Bridges tweeted. “You were loved by everyone on our show and you were loved by everyone on the facts of life will miss you. “My heart is full of Pain.” Rest in peace my friend.”
And Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie on “Facts of Life” wrote, “It’s with a heavy heart and tears (but a smile as i think of her lil’ bod and hear her voice) that I now move through the world without this incredible force of a woman being it.”
And Kim Fields, who played Tootie, tweeted, “You all already know my heart is heavy yet…. sorry, no words at the moment just love and tears… and yeah, smile.”
Rae’s acting career spanned six decades, but she reached true stardom with her iconic television roles in the 70s and 80s, earning her an Emmy nomination. A native of Milwaukee, Rae began her career in children’s theater there before moving to New York and appearing on Broadway.
During the 50s and 60s, she pursued dramatic roles and musicals, appearing in Broadway plays “Three Wishes for Jamie,” “Li’l Abner,” “The Threepenny Opera” and “Pickwick.”
Though she began her career devoted to dramatic roles, she segued into comedy eventually landing an incredibly diverse array of roles ranging from Broadway to cartoon voice work. She played Woody Allen’s mother in the movie “Bananas,” the nanny in “101 Dalmatians,” and she appeared in the hit play “The Vagina Monologues.”
But it was her role as Edna Garrett that resonated with millions. She brought a combination of warmth and sass to the role, guiding her young charges in both “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Facts of Life” through challenges topical of the era. The shows famously tackled complex topics such as sex, eating disorders and body image, and the AIDS crisis.
Rae continued acting for decades even through her battles with cancer. In 2015 she appeared in the Meryl Streep film Ricki and the Flash and in the 2018 documentary “Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age.” Rae published her autobiography, “The Facts of My Life,” in 2015.
The famed matriarch had two children of her own, sons Larry and Andrew Strauss, whom she had with her ex-husband, the late composer John Strauss. She is survived by her son Larry and three grandchildren.
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