“The Golden Girls” was radical when it was launched in 1985 just because of its cast of characters: four older women living together, without husbands. Health problems, the indignities of ageism and the struggle of being cash-strapped in one’s later years were obvious material for episodes. But the writers went further, pushing the envelope for sitcom subject matter into some of the biggest controversies of the 1980s. Here are just a few of the issues tackled on “The Golden Girls.”

Health care

Season 5, episodes 1 & 2. Dorothy’s (Bea Arthur) doctor doesn’t believe her when she tells him she is sick. When she finally gets a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, she tells off the doctor, in one of Arthur’s all-time great speeches.


Season 5, episode 19. Rose (Betty White) learns that a blood transfusion could have been contaminated with HIV. “This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me,” Rose says. “I’m a good person.” Blanche (Rue McClanahan) angrily responds, “AIDS is not a bad person’s disease.”

Homosexuality, same-sex marriage

Season 4, episode 9; season 6, episode 14. Blanche’s brother Clayton comes out to her and she supports him, but two seasons later, she has a tantrum when he announces he is marrying a man. It takes older, wiser Sophia (Estelle Getty) to help Blanche come around. “Everyone wants someone to grow old with,” Sophia says, “and shouldn’t everyone have that chance?”

Sharyn Jackson