Charlotte Rae, who played a wise and caring housemother to a brood of teenage girls on the long-running sitcom The Facts Of Life, has died at the age of 92.
Spokesman Harlan Boll said Rae died on Sunday at her Los Angeles home.
A cause of death was not immediately provided.
Rae, who was born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, originated the character of Edna Garrett in 1978 during the first season of NBC’s comedy Diff’rent Strokes, then took Mrs Garrett with her for the spin-off The Facts Of Life, which premiered the following season.
Initially set at a girls’ boarding school, that NBC series ran for nine seasons, though Rae left after its seventh year.
Her many stage roles include that of Mammy Yokum, created by her for the 1956 Broadway musical Li’l Abner.
The Facts role came to Rae after years of theatre and television performances. She earned an Emmy nomination for the part, and she was a two-time Tony nominee for her work on Broadway.
Her last feature film credit was Ricki And The Flash with Meryl Streep in 2015. That same year she released her autobiography The Facts of My Life, co-written by her son Larry Strauss.
Mindy Cohn and Kim Fields, who played members of Mrs Garrett’s brood, recalled her lovingly.
“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,” Cohn, who played Natalie, posted on Instagram.
“Sorry, no words at the moment just love and tears… and yeah, smiles,” tweeted Fields, who portrayed Tootie.
Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald tweeted: “She was so sweet, funny, wise, lovely, and brilliant. She will be so missed. Rest In Peace Sweet Charlotte Rae.”
Todd Bridges, who was on “Diff’rent Strokes,” said on Twitter that she was beloved by all her colleagues and that the show “would not have been the same without you.”
Edna Garrett provided kind if sometimes wry counsel to her Facts Of Life charges (which, besides Cohn and Fields, included Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon and Molly Ringwald) on a series that was praised for dealing with such sensitive issues of teenhood as sex, drug use, eating disorders and peer pressure.
“I wanted to bring in as much humanity as possible, as well as the humour,” Rae told The Associated Press early in the show’s run.
“I don’t want her to be Polly Perfect, because she must have human failings and make mistakes.”
Her own life was marked by tragedy, Rae told the AP in a 2015 interview. She said the “most devastating thing” she faced was her son Andy Strauss’ diagnosis of autism at a time when there was far less understanding of or attention to the disorder. Andy died in his mid-40s of a heart attack in 1999.
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, on April 22, 1926, she had studied drama at Northwestern University, then moved to New York where, despite early plans to be a “serious” actress, she quickly found work doing satirical sketches in Greenwich Village clubs.
Her mother Esther was said to have been childhood friends with future Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.
It was there that Broadway producers, who frequented such bistros, discovered her, leading to her first Broadway musical, called Three Wishes For Jamie, in 1952.
Rae made numerous TV appearances in 1950s drama anthologies including The US Steel Hour, Playhouse 90 and Armstrong Circle Theatre sharing the black-and-white screen with such actors as Zero Mostel, Art Carney and Gertrude Berg.