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Goodbye, Mrs. Garrett: 'Facts of Life' star Charlotte Rae dies at 92

The beloved actress died at home, surrounded by family Sunday, but tributes pouring in on social media prove she lives on in the memories of those who knew her.
by Ree Hines / / Source: TODAY
The Death of Charlotte Rae
Courtesy Everett Collection

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Family, friends and fans are morning the loss of a television icon. Charlotte Rae has died at the age of 92.

The actress, who was best known on the small screen as housekeeper-turned-housemother Mrs. Garrett on both "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life," revealed last year that she was battling bone cancer. Her son, Larry Strauss, told NBC News she died in her Los Angeles-area home Sunday, surrounded by family.

Rae's career spanned more than 60 years and saw her go from a nightclub singer to a dramatic stage performer to a comedic character actress — on the silver screen and TV — all before landing the role that made her an indelible part of pop culture.

In 1978, she took the part of Edna Garrett on the instantly popular sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," and her character became such a fan favorite, that she inspired a spinoff that even outlasted that series.

The Death of Charlotte Rae
Charlotte Rae as Mrs. Edna Ann Garrett on "The Facts of Life."NBC / NBC via Getty Images

On "The Facts of Life," which debuted in 1979 and ran through 1988 (plus three made-for-TV movies), Rae became beloved for her funny, tender, at-times tough and always-genuine portrayal of "Mrs. G."

"I want to bring in as much humanity as possible, as well as the humor," Rae said of the character in an AP interview in 1982. "I've tried to make her a human being with dimensions. ... I don't want her to be Polly Perfect, because she must have human failings and make mistakes."

The Paley Center For Media's PaleyFest 2014 Fall TV Preview - "The Facts Of Life" 35th Anniversary Reunion
Charlotte Rae at PaleyFest 2014 for "The Facts of Life" 35th anniversary reunion at The Paley Center on September 15, 2014, in Beverly Hills, California. Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

It's clear from the outpouring of tributes since her death, that she played that imperfect role perfectly and remained beloved on and off-screen for the rest of her days.

Rae's former co-stars and friends took to social media and honored the woman who meant so much to them.

"She was my champion, a teacher, a proud example of the tenacity and perseverance needed to live an actor’s life," Mindy Cohn, who played Natalie on "Facts of Life," wrote in one memorial message. She went on to wish the star "the happiest of homecomings."

Hours after tweeting a tribute, Kim Fields, who played Tootie, released a heartfelt statement.

"Charlotte Rae was an indelible force of spirit and that is what she brought to to every character she portrayed," Fields wrote. "Part of that came from her extensive theater training, most came from her passion for what she loved to do and the greatest part was just simply her light. With an infectious smile and nurturing heart full of kindness and determination, Charlotte generously gave of herself as an artist, a performer and as a friend. Though she was always (and I mean ALWAYS) busy working, she made sure to make time for her family and friends who were to her: treasures. My family and I are blessed to have been one of her treasures."

Fields added, "While she will be missed on a level I can't even quantify, I am very happy knowing that she knew how much she was loved. She knew how well the show that SHE was the star of, was regarded. She knew she was a legend. And although she would never use those labels about herself, she knew that she was at the head of something that would impact generations. And her unique gift did. I am happy to know that she got her honors and her 'flowers' while she was still with us. She will be missed more than I could ever say. Rest well, dear friend.”

Stage and screen legend Harvey Fierstein called her "One of the dearest and most fun ladies ever."

"Different Strokes would not have been the same without you," wrote Todd Bridges, aka Willis on the series. "You were loved by everyone on our show ..."

And another tweet from Bridges highlighted how many times he's mourned a co-star from that classic sitcom. Of the core cast of five, including himself, Rae, Gary Coleman (Arnold), Dana Plato (Kimberly) and Conrad Bain (Phillip Drummond), he's now the lone survivor.

Last year, Rae contemplated what, if any, treatment she would pursue following her cancer diagnosis, and noted, "I love life. I've had a wonderful one already."

And it was one that inspired so many others.

Charlotte Rae was an indelible force of spirit and that is what she brought to to every character she portrayed. Part of that came from her extensive theater training, most came from her passion for what she loved to do and the greatest part was just simply her light. With an infectious smile and nurturing heart full of kindness and determination, Charlotte generously gave of herself as an artist, a performer and as a friend. Though she was always (and I mean ALWAYS) busy working, she made sure to make time for her family and friends who were to her: treasures. My family and I are blessed to have been one of her treasures.

While she will be missed on a level I can't even quantify, I am very happy knowing that she knew how much she was loved. She knew how well the show that SHE was the star of, was regarded. She knew she was a legend. And although she would never use those labels about herself, she knew that she was at the head of something that would impact generations. And her unique gift did. I am happy to know that she got her honors and her "flowers" while she was still with us.

She will be missed more than I could ever say. Rest well, dear friend.”

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