The fur-hating zealots of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are among the grief-stricken fans paying tribute to late Golden Girl Rue McClanahan.

On Thursday, the usually acid-tongued animal rights group showed off its softer side in a touching tribute to the actress, who PETA leaders remember as a devoted friend to animals.

Rue, who won an Emmy for her role as Blanche Devereauxin the hit ’80s show, died Thursday after suffering a massive stroke. She was 76. Blanche’s appetite for men was almost insatiable, and the role was viewed by many as groundbreaking for portraying older women as still sexually active. In short, Blanche was one of TV’s first “cougars.”

But Rue’s passion was pets.

In fact, Rue and her Golden Girls co-stars — Betty White and Bea Arthur — starred in PETA’s very first anti-fur campaign.

Wow — who knew?

“Back in the ’80s, when many people still thought that PETA was a Middle Eastern bread, a funny actor from Oklahoma became our first champion in Hollywood and helped establish the organization as a household name. She was Rue McClanahan, the flirty “Golden Girl,” and she became so active that she was PETA’s honorary director for almost three decades,” PETA Senior Vice-President Dan Mathews writes. “I was still PETA’s receptionist when I wrote to Rue and asked if she would star in our first anti-fur commercial. You can imagine my delight when I answered the phone to hear Rue say that not only would she do it, she had gotten Bea Arthur and Betty White to appear, too, and had even convinced the producers to film it for us free of charge on the set after one of their Friday-night tapings,” Mathews continues.

“But my favorite memory of Rue was when we traveled to New Mexico, where she helped push through legislation to outlaw cockfighting. When a reporter asked if there would be any naked protesters, she just smiled and replied, ‘It’s not that kind of cockfight.’”

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