Beatrice Arthur, best known for her biting humour and roles as Maude Findlay on "Maude" and Dorothy Zbornak on "The Golden Girls," died Saturday at the age of 86.

Despite her fame as a television actress, Arthur first established herself on Broadway. In 1966, she won a Tony award for her performance in the musical "Mame."

Family spokesperson Dan Watt said the actress died at her home in Los Angeles, with her family at her side. She had been battling cancer.

"She was a brilliant and witty woman," Watt, who worked as Arthur's personal assistant for six years, told The Associated Press. "Bea will always have a special place in my heart."

Arthur's tall frame and signature deep voice first graced the small screen in an episode of "All in the Family." She played Edith Bunker's cousin Maude Finley - an unabashed Liberal, and foil to the reactionary Archie Bunker.

The role was so successful that the show's producer, Norman Lear, gave the character her own series, and the hit show "Maude" was born in 1972.

"I was already 50 years old. I had done so much off-Broadway, on Broadway, but they said, `Who is that girl? Let's give her her own series,"' Arthur told AP last year.

The show was a classic situation-comedy, but tackled serious feminist issues. In one episode, Maude had an abortion. Arthur won an Emmy Award for her role in 1977.

Arthur quit the show in 1978 as ratings fell. It wasn't until several years later, in 1985, that she again returned to television in a major role: the retiree Dorothy Zbornak.

"Golden Girls" was groundbreaking because it was a show about retirees -- far different from the usual, youth-oriented shows that filled primetime. Its four characters lived together in a Miami apartment, often satirizing the passing trends of the era.

Arthur stayed with the show until 1992, and it picked up 10 Emmys during that time -- including two wins for best comedy.

As both Maude and Dorothy, Arthur played outspoken women who were never afraid to speak their minds. David Caplan of People Magazine said she shared the same attributes as her characters.

"She had a razor-sharp delivery that captivated so many of her fans," he told CTV Newsnet. "She was very outspoken."

Arthur was born in New York City in 1922, and named Bernice Frankel. When she was 11 years old, her family moved to Cambridge, Md. By the age of 12, she had already grown to her towering, full height.

She returned to New York City when she enrolled in a drama course at the New School of Social Research, and began her career as a singer, singing in nightclubs before taking roles on Broadway.

Arthur continued acting in recent years, starring in the popular comedies "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Malcolm in the Middle." She also devoted her time to animal rights and support for AIDS research.

With files from The Associated Press