Charlotte Rae, Mrs. Garrett of Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, Dies at 92

Charlotte Rae, the actress who became known to millions of TV viewers as the tough but admirable Mrs. Garrett on Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, has died. She was 92 years old. Rae died Sunday at her Los Angeles home, according to The New York Times. Her death was confirmed by her manager, Paul Hilepo.

Rae got her start in the theater, eventually acting on Broadway. However, it’s her television work that made her a household name. She was best known as Edna Garrett, a flame-haired housekeeper to three children on Diff’rent Strokes. She continued the role on the Strokes spin-off, The Facts of Life. In that series, Garrett leaves the house to go care for several teenage girls who attend a private school. The show began airing in 1979; Garrett stuck with it until the eighth season, eventually bowing out due to health problems. In a later interview, she said that she also left because it made sense for the growing girls to see less and less of Mrs. Garrett. In addition, she wanted to focus on other aspects of her life.

“I thought I’d like to go back and do the stage, and travel, and enjoy myself, and do other things, which I did,” she said in 2017. “And so I did a crazy thing.”

Rae, who was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1926, began her career in New York City. She cut her teeth on the stage, performing in Broadway plays like The Threepenny Opera and Li’l Abner, later picking up two Tony nominations in 1966 (for best featured actress in a musical in Pickwick) and 1969 (best actress in a play in Morning, Noon and Night).

She was also notching film and TV appearances, landing a role in the Woody Allen comedy Bananas and TV shows like The Partridge Family and All in the Family. Rae has never been shy about describing the difficulty of being an actor in those days: “Being an actor is not like any other job. It’s not easy. I felt like a hooker!” she joked in a 2016 interview. “You never know when your next job is going to come along.”

She first played Mrs. Garrett, a frank, funny housekeeper with a distinctive bouffant, in 1978 in Diff’rent Strokes. She carried on the role until 1984, going between that show and The Facts of Life. Though the actress left the role behind in the mid-1980s, she kept acting, returning to the stage and turning up in shows like ER and Pretty Little Liars, as well as movies like Ricki and the Flash, acting alongside Meryl Streep.

The actress was married from 1951 to 1975 to composer and sound editor John Strauss, with whom she often collaborated. They divorced amid respective struggles with alcohol addiction; Strauss also came out as bisexual, and told Rae that he had wanted an open marriage. The divorce was difficult, but they remained “friends and supported each other until he died” in 2011, Rae said. The pair had two sons, Larry and Andy Strauss; Andy, who had autism, died of a heart attack in his forties. Rae delved into her struggles with Andy, as well as her marriage and struggles with alcohol addiction, in her 2015 memoir, The Facts of My Life, which was co-written with Larry.

Over the course of her decades-long career, Rae remained synonymous with Mrs. Garrett. While some actors bristle against such close association with a character, Rae enjoyed the attention, telling the HuffPost in 2016 that she didn’t mind when people on the street called her famous character’s name. “I love it all. I don’t mind it . . . if people had a positive experience with Mrs. Garrett, that makes me so happy!”

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Debbie Reynolds during her high-school years, in the late 1940s.

Debbie Reynolds during her high-school years, in the late 1940s.

Photo: From Everett Collection.

Reynolds in her most famous role, opposite Gene Kelly in *Singin’ in the Rain*.

Reynolds in her most famous role, opposite Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.

Photo: From Everett Collection.

Reynolds singing for a rapt audience of 30,000 G.I.s.

Reynolds singing for a rapt audience of 30,000 G.I.s.

Photo: From Bettmann/Getty Images.

Reynolds married her first husband, Eddie Fisher, in 1955.

Reynolds married her first husband, Eddie Fisher, in 1955.

Photo: By Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, pose together in 2011.

Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, pose together in 2011.

Photo: By Brian To/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Reynolds and her son, Todd, among the actress’s vast collection of Hollywood memorabilia.

Reynolds and her son, Todd, among the actress’s vast collection of Hollywood memorabilia.

Photo: By Evans Vestal Ward/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.

Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Billie Lourd were all present when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Billie Lourd were all present when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Photo: By John Salangsang/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock.

Debbie Reynolds during her high-school years, in the late 1940s.

From Everett Collection.

Reynolds in her most famous role, opposite Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.

From Everett Collection.

Reynolds singing for a rapt audience of 30,000 G.I.s.

From Bettmann/Getty Images.

Reynolds married her first husband, Eddie Fisher, in 1955.

By Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Reynolds and Fisher with their first child, daughter Carrie, in 1956.

From Rex/Shutterstock.

Reynolds and her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher, on a walk in Los Angeles circa 1957.

From Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

An exuberant Carrie goes to hug her mother in 1959.

By Ray Graham/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images.

From left, actresses Susan Cabot, Debbie Reynolds, and Lori Nelson, in 1953.

From Everett Collection.

On the set of The Tender Trap with Frank Sinatra, 1955.

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Reynolds and actor Tab Hunter at the premiere of Little Boy Lost in 1953.

By Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Reynolds, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis embrace each other in 1954, after being voted the year’s “Most Cooperative Stars” by the Hollywood Women’s Press Club.

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Debbie Reynolds in the MGM dance studio, circa the mid-1950s.

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Reynolds and her children at the 1973 opening of the Broadway revival of Irene.

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Reynolds married her second husband, businessman Harry Karl, in 1960.

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Reynolds with her son, Todd, in 1969.

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Reynolds strikes a pose with Rip Taylor at a screening of 42nd Street in 1984.

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Reynolds attends a charity gala for Bob Hope’s 82nd birthday in 1985.

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Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, pose together in 2011.

By Brian To/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Reynolds and her son, Todd, among the actress’s vast collection of Hollywood memorabilia.

By Evans Vestal Ward/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images.

Carrie Fisher (left), Reynolds, and Billie Lourd were all present when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

By John Salangsang/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock.

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