"She passed away at 1 a.m. this morning," her manager, Barbara Lawrence, tells PEOPLE. "She had a massive stroke."
McClanahan, who played man-happy Blanche Devereaux on the still-popular '80s sitcom Golden Girls, had suffered a minor stroke earlier this year while recovering from bypass surgery. Lawrence adds that at the time of her death Thursday, McClanahan "had her family with her. She went in peace."
Still in syndication, Golden Girls ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992. Only last year, McClanahan's costar, Beatrice Arthur, died from cancer. Estelle Getty died in 2008. Surviving star Betty White, 88, is currently enjoying a remarkable resurgence in her career, having recently hosted Saturday Night Live.
Born in Healdton, Okla., Rue lived in six towns by the time she was 8. Her father was a road builder who moved from one project to another. She found solace in acting ("the only thing I ever wanted to do") and after four years at the University of Tulsa moved to New York, where she worked as a part-time file clerk while trying to find jobs in the theater.
Her first job was off Broadway, in 1957, and she finally hit Broadway in 1969. TV work came from soap operas, until she made it on CBS's Maude, starring Beatrice Arthur, starting in 1972. She played Maude's best friend Vivian.
But it was Golden Girls that put her on the map and led to fame, fortune – and several husbands. In all, she had six, including actor Morrow Wilson, whom she wed in 1997 and who survives her, as does a son, Mark Bish, from her first marriage.
As McClanahan told PEOPLE in 1986: "I've always been lucky enough to marry good cooks. One cooked Greek. One cooked Tex-Mex – chili and stuff." Then, with a laugh, she added, "True, one needed a recipe to make a peanut butter sandwich ..."