Charlotte Rae, the Tony- and Emmy-nominated actress best known for her recurring role as Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, died on Sunday at age 92.
Rae’s son Larry Strauss confirmed her death to CNN and said the actress died peacefully at her home in Los Angeles surrounded by family. The cause of death has not yet been released.
Rae, born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky, was cast as housekeeper Edna Garrett on Diff’rent Stokes in 1978 and then appeared as the character on spin-off The Facts of Life, which premiered the following year. Her sometimes warm-hearted yet kooky character was the matriarch to a group of teenage girls living in a boarding school. Rae stayed with the series, which ran for nine total seasons, until its seventh year.
Rae also spent a year on Sesame Street, and appeared on ER, King of Queens and Pretty Little Liars. She performed in theater productions throughout the years in New York, both on Broadway and in Shakespeare In the Park. Her most recent feature film role was opposite Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash.
Rae’s former co-stars have mourned the actress including Todd Bridges, who portrayed Willis Jackson, wrote: “Diff’rent Strokes would not have been the same without you #CharlotteRae. You were loved by everyone on our show.” Comedian Larry Wilmore added, “Saddened to hear about Charlotte Rae’s passing. My first tv gig a millennium of moons ago was on The Facts of Life. She was just the best and nicest lady.”
Born in Milwaukee in 1926, Rae began her career on the radio and attended Northwestern University, where she roomed with Cloris Leachman. She married composer John Strauss and the couple had two sons, one of whom, Andy, passed away in 1999. Rae recorded an album of show tunes parodying the Gabor sisters and Marlene Dietrich called Songs I Taught My Mother: Silly, Sinful & Satiric Selections in 1955.
Before sitcom fame, Rae was ubiquitous on Broadway, performing in 10 productions in 20 years. Her Tony Award-nominated roles for best actress in a musical and best actress in a play were for Pickwick (1966) and Morning, Noon and Night (1969), respectively.
Rae was diagnosed with bone cancer last April. At the time she said in a statement, “Last Monday, I found out I have bone cancer. About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – which is a miracle that they found it because usually, it’s too late … 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.”
She added, “I’ve had a great life, but I have so many wonderful things happening. I’d like to choose life. I’m grateful for the life I’ve already had.”