‘Facts of Life’ star Charlotte Rae, 91, reveals she has bone cancer

Charlotte Rae, whose character of Mrs. Edna Garrett was so popular on the classic sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” that she was spun off into “The Facts of Life,” has revealed that she has bone cancer.

The 91-year-old actress spoke with People magazine about her diagnosis.

The Paley Center For Media's PaleyFest 2014 Fall TV Preview -
Charlotte Rae at the PaleyFest 2014 “Facts of Life” anniversary reunion in Beverly Hills, California. Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

“Last Monday, I found out I have bone cancer,” she said. “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 even knew.”

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Today, however, it’s a different story: her age will factor into what kind of treatment she has, and whether she’ll have it.

“At the age of 91, I have to make up my mind,” she added. “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 to opt for life. I love life. I’ve had a wonderful one already. I have this decision to make.”

Rae’s long career has given her a useful perspective for evaluating such facts of life. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she became a stage and TV actress in New York in the 1950s, and first had real success in the 1960s on “Car 54, Where Are You?” Working closely with legendary TV creator Norman Lear led to his casting her in “Diff’rent Strokes” in the late 1970s, and her housekeeper character Mrs. Garrett proved worthy of her own spinoff show a few years later: “The Facts of Life.”

On that show she quickly became the loving but strict housemother of a small, private girls school and the show lasted from 1979-88, giving early roles to such future names as George Clooney and Molly Ringwald.

THE FACTS OF LIFE, Mindy Cohn, Lisa Whelchel, Charlotte Rae, Nancy McKeon, Kim Fields, 1979-88.
Charlotte Rae with the cast of “The Facts of Life”: Mindy Cohn, Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon and Kim Fields.Courtesy Everett Collection

Rae’s personal life could be tumultuous: She divorced her husband, composer John Strauss, in 1976 after he came out as gay. The couple have two grown sons, Larry and Andrew; she co-wrote her 2015 memoir, “The Facts of My Life” with Larry. She also battled alcoholism from her college days until her 40s.

Over the years, she’s earned two Tony and two Emmy nominations, and has appeared in recent films like “Ricki and the Flash” and TV shows like “Pretty Little Liars.”

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Ultimately Rae, who turned 91 on April 22, seems to be keeping a positive outlook and will likely seek treatment.

“I wanted to think about it first,” she says. “I think I’m going to go for it. The side effects were not too bad when I did it originally. I’ve had a great life, but I have so many wonderful things happening. I’d like to chose life. I’m grateful for the life I’ve already had.”

As are we. Speedy recovery, Charlotte!

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