"I admit that a lot of times I look down on her innocence and naivete," Arthur confesses in McClanahan's upcoming Lifetime Intimate Portrait (June 19, 7 pm/ET). "I think, 'Oh, Rue, come on.' Then I think, 'What the hell?' There's such joyousness, you know?"
The Emmy Award-winning McClanahan has somehow managed to maintain her good spirits over the years despite a roller-coaster personal life marked by five failed marriages and various life-threatening illnesses. According to son Mark Bish, the actress was "at death's door" when she contracted Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome following a severe gall bladder attack back in the early 1980s.
"I couldn't breathe," says McClanahan of the scary hospital stay. "They thought I was hysterical. They said, 'Do you have a therapist we can call?' Three days went by and finally they rushed me into ICU."
The actress says she again lost her breath years later when she was told by a doctor that she had breast cancer. "I got dizzy, my blood pressure dropped, I had to hold on to the table," says McClanahan, who battled the illness with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
Despite her personal traumas, McClanahan continues to make audiences laugh in reruns. Explains Arthur: "What I thought was so wonderful about Golden Girls is that we were all vital, feeling sexy, well-groomed, beautifully made up and coiffed ? and not just a bunch of old women with our breasts hanging down to here."