Charlotte Rae, best known for playing Mrs. Garrett on The Facts of Life, died in LA today at 92.
Rae revealed she’d been diagnosed with bone cancer at the end of April 2017.
“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. My mother, sister, and my uncle died of pancreatic cancer. After six months of chemotherapy, I was cancer-free. I lost my hair, but I had beautiful wigs. Nobody ever knew. 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.
I love life. I’ve had a wonderful one already … 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.”
Born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she got her start doing theater and radio (where she was told to drop her last name). She broke into TV as Sylvia Schnauser, the wife of Al Lewis’ Officer Leo Schnauser on Car 54, Where Are You?
But it wasn’t until ’78, when Norman Lear cast her in Diff’rent Strokes, that Rae’s career took off as the kooky but kind housekeeper Edna Garrett. Rae herself proposed the spin-off. That spin-off became The Facts of Life, about a girls’ boarding school and their (once again) kooky and kind house mother.
Rae went on to guest star on TV shows like ER, Pretty Little Liars, Sisters, and The King of Queens.
As much as she was beloved by TV watchers throughout the ‘80s, she remained associated with the beloved character of Mrs. Garrett thanks to reruns. In 2011, The Facts of Life cast reunited for the TV Land Awards, where she took home the Pop Icon award. Her Facts of Life costars Kim Fields and Nancy McKeon gave speeches in her honor and for the show’s 35th anniversary in 2014, they again got together for the closing night of PaleyFest in LA.
In her April 2017 statement, Rae said,
“At 91, every day is a birthday. [In my book] I want to tell everybody to celebrate every day, to savor the day and be good to yourself, love yourself, and then you can be good to others and be of service to others.”
The theme song lyrics can seem silly and frivolous, but today they are somehow profound.
“There’s a place you’ve got to go
For learning all you want to know about the facts of life
The facts of life.
When books are what you’re there about
And looks are what you care about the time is right,
To learn the facts of life.
When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams
It’s time you started finding out what everything is all about
You got the future in the palm of your hands
All you gotta do to get you through is understand
You think you rather do without,
You will never make without the truth
The facts of life is all about you“
(Photo, NBC; via EW)