'Facts of Life' Star Charlotte Rae Opens Up About Alcoholism

By William Georgiades 04/24/17

Rae, a long-time member of AA, details her past struggles with alcohol in her new memoir.

Charlotte Rae

Charlotte Rae, the actress who played Edna Garrett on the beloved '80s sitcom, The Facts of Life, recently revealed her successful battle against alcoholism. In a new memoir, also named The Facts of Life, Rae, now 91, reveals that she has been sober for over 40 years.

In a recent interview with Fox News, Rae revealed that she sobered up before her iconic role on The Facts of Life as the boarding school house-mother to four teenage girls. In fact, she sobered up right after playing Molly the Mail Lady on Sesame Street from 1971 to 1972.

As she described it to Fox News, “After the wrap party for Sesame Street, I went over to a meeting. I was expecting to see a bunch of bums ... [instead] I saw a lot of well dressed beautiful people ... And I wept. That was the beginning of my sobriety. I’m now 42 years sober."

Rae described how she began drinking while a student at Northwestern University in Illinois. Because that area was “dry,” she and a friend would go to Chicago to drink. “We would get a shot of whiskey and chase it with beer,” she recalled. 

Later, when she met her husband-to-be, he suggested to her, “Why don’t we get a bottle instead of sitting by the bar? It’s cheaper! We’ll go up to your room and drink.” Rae recalled this as the point when she became “very, very used to drinking. We were real drinking buddies.”

Soon after that point Rae realized she was addicted: “Alcohol became my drug of choice so I could get sleep at night. It was difficult.” She sobered up in her 40s before finding her most successful role on The Facts of Life.

Her husband also sobered up, after Rae, and died in 2011 from Parkinson’s having been sober “a long, long time.” The couple did divorce however, after her husband came out that he was gay.

According to a recent HuffPost interview, Rae has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 42 years. Still sober at the age of 91, Rae remains in touch with her co-stars, and supported Kim Fields (Tootie) when she competed on Dancing With the Stars.

And from the perspective of such long-term sobriety, Rae looks back on her work on one of the defining TV shows of the 1980s with both fondness and an appreciation for what the show was trying to do—bring adult themes to a sitcom format. “The show touched on themes that could bring parents and children together,” she said.

Rae recalled doing a book signing recently, and met people who “told me that I meant so much to them ... And they all wanted a hug from me. And I gave it to them. All of them.”

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William Georgiades is a former editor at EsquireBlack Book, the New York Post and the Grapevine and has written for several publications including New York MagazineVanity Fair, the London Times and GQ. He has been the features editor at The Fix since 2013. You can find him on Linkedin.