ANIMIZE Magazine Volume 2 Issue 2 March 2017 - Page 15

into her vein and she had the stroke. We tried everything we could but damage was done.’

‘When she had the stroke they opened her papers and found out that she had appointed me, not her husband, not her son, but her gay best friend to take over her business and personal affairs. So I did. I had a production company at the time, and I had a choice to make. Do you keep the company running or do you take care of your friend, and for me it was no choice. I closed my business and I took care of Rue. I didn’t do it alone. I had a staff of fifteen people plus all of her friends and relatives. I remember Rue joking one time, how many people does it take to take care of an old lady, and I said it takes a village. She was high maintenance. She did really well for seven months, everyday she was getting better, she got her speech back for the most part, she got her leg back, her arm never quite came back but then she died. And the family asked me to stay on and manage her estate at that point.’

In her memoir McClanahan writes ‘I have a hard time letting go of personal artifacts’. Michael contends ‘I would say she’s a hoarder. Except because she had enough closets and houses to hide everything in, society calls her a collector.’ After her death in 2010, Michael began to inventory her estate. ‘It became clear to me that this was a unique situation, not just because she was a celebrity but Rue saved everything. I thought it would be a shame for these things to just sit in storage forever, or to worse end up in a dumpster someday. I decided to start brainstorming for a way to display these things. When we opened the website and fans started to buy Rue’s personal property all over the world, I realised this audience was bigger than I knew. And eventually it just made sense that we should have a place where we could display these items. We donated different things to different television museums and different places where people warehouse celebrity memorabilia. But there is so much of it I knew we needed our own space.’

‘Here in Washington Heights we had this storage facility. I stored some of Rue’s artwork and some of her things in this building. And everyday when I’d walk out of the storage unit, I would see this space on the first floor, and I would think that should be a café. It has great exposure, sunlight all day long. A huge sidewalk and it’s a wonderful building, it looks like an old fortress. And one day I was walking out about two years ago, and I said to myself again, that should be a café. And this little voice inside that sounded exactly like Rue McClanahan, said ‘Then do it’. So I called her son Mark immediately, and before we got off the phone we had decided we were going to do this. So Rue’s biological son and I, her let’s say spiritual son, have done this café together. She had always wanted to have another child, someone to be with her son Mark. And Rue told me when she was sick, her hope was that we’d become like brothers and that’s exactly what happened.’

As an animal rights supporter, McClanahan’s friendships with people were just as important as her bond with her pets. NYC Pet Project is a book produced by Michael J La Rue, a former Chicago lawyer. ‘It’s a fund raiser for twelve New York animal charities, and the people at Barnes and Noble said that no one would buy it if I didn’t have famous people in it.’ It was at a fundraiser at Studio 54 that La Rue first met and approached McClanahan about being involved with his book. ‘I went up to her and I said ‘Hi I’m Michael La Rue, I’m from the Midwest.’ That always disarms people, when you say that Midwest thing. And I asked her if she had a pet and she said ‘Yes I’ve got a cat Miss Bianca’, and I asked if I could come over and shoot a picture of her with Miss Bianca for this pet book I was doing. And she took off her glasses and she looked in my eyes for a full minute. And I don’t know what she was looking for, if she was looking to see something or to not see something. But after that minute she said yes.’ Two days later, he arrived at Rue’s to shoot the picture. ‘The entire day Rue and I were laughing like we had known each other forever, just kindred spirits immediately. And I remember having a conscious thought when I walked out of her apartment. I remember thinking yeah right, like you’re going become friends with Blanche. Back then we still had answering machines, and by the time I got home she had already called and said she had so much fun today would I like to go out sometime. And I called everyone I knew and said you have to hear this message, and I played it for them.’

The two quickly became close friends, with Rue hosting his book launch party. The pair would work together again in 2007, with Michael producing her one woman show. It was during preparation for the out of town tryout that Rue was diagnosed with a torn meniscus. The show had enough lead time for Rue’s surgery before taking the show to Chicago. Michael was with her at the hospital on the Monday when her pre surgery stress test and angiogram revealed three blockages. ‘Two of them at seventy percent, one of them complete, she could have a heart attack at any moment. So they decided they were going to do open heart surgery on Thursday and they wouldn’t let her leave the hospital. And by the way celebrities have a totally different hospital experience than we do. She had a suite on the East River; it had a dining room, a bedroom, a living room with blue leather furniture. It was absolutely gorgeous. I remember telling her that you better hope that Madonna doesn’t get sick, cause they will boot you out of here.’

Rue now separated from her sixth husband, and with family scattered throughout the country, her New York friends would rally around her. ‘I stayed with her for those few days. She went in and had the surgery, which went well. For a week she was recovering beautifully, and then a week after the open-heart surgery she threw a blood clot. One of her stitches released a blood clot