Dead, Estelle Getty on July 22, 2008 at the age of 84, she was an American actress and comedienne, who appeared in film, television, and theatre.
Born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923, the daughter of Sarah and Charles Scher, Polish Jewish immigrants, she had a sister, Roz, and a brother, David.
Getty is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls.
Her character was the wise-cracking Sicilian mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur, although Getty was in fact one year younger than Arthur.
In 1991, as later reported in Star magazine, Getty helped to nurse her 29-year-old nephew Steven Scher, who was near death and suffering from the final stages of AIDS.
Because Scher’s parents lived in England and his friends were no longer able to care for him in Greensboro, North Carolina, Getty had him flown to California and admitted to hospice care. He died in January 1992.
Also co-starring Betty White and Rue McClannan, The Golden Girls broke new comedic ground, proving that audiences would tune in to see a show about mature women.
All of the lead actresses were skilled performers with excellent comedic timing, but Getty often got the biggest laugh with her character’s sharp dialogue. Sophia Petrillo was such a hit that the character even appeared on other shows, such as Blossom and Empty Nest.
For her portrayal of Sophia, Getty was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series seven times and won it once in 1988. After The Golden Girls ended in 1992, some of the show’s characters were featured on The Golden Palace.
In this new version, Getty’s character, along with McClannan’s and White’s, buy a Miami hotel together. The show suffered from the absence of Bea Arthur and lacked the magic of the original. It only lasted one season.
At the time of her death, several of her former co-stars expressed their sadness over Getty’s passing. “Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the greatest comic duos ever, and I will miss her,” Bea Arthur said, according to US magazine. “The only comfort at this moment is that although Estelle has moved on, Sophia will always be with us,” Betty White told US.
Getty played Cher’s mother in the drama Mask (1985), one of her first substantial film roles. That same year, she took the country by storm as the small and sassy Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. In the show, she played Bea Arthur’s mother, even though they were very close in age. Getty wore a wig and learned to carry herself as an older person.
In 2000, Getty stopped making public appearances after her health and mind began its slow decline. One of her last sightings was in the L.A. audience of “The Vagina Monologues,” which starred “Golden Girls” co-star Rue McClanahan. Misdiagnosed as having both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, it was later learned she was suffering from advanced dementia.