Fans adored Estelle Getty as the tart-tongued octogenarian Sophia on the famous comedy series Golden Girls, and her death in 2008 left a tremendous vacuum in Hollywood.
Before succumbing to a fatal illness Getty worked quietly for years.
Getty’s birthday is July 25, so let us remember her as the talented entertainer who still makes us laugh on Golden Girls repeats.
The 1980s were fortunate for Estelle Getty, who had spent decades performing on stage in the hopes of landing her big break.
The New Yorker, who was born in 1923, had her big break in 1982 when she was cast in the Broadway show The Torch Song. Harvey Fierstein, who also acted in the play as Getty’s character’s son, created her character particularly for her.
Getty, who was nearly 60 at the time, went on to portray the major role of Mrs. Beckhoff on and off Broadway for four years. Her performance in the play, about a New York drag queen, piqued the interest of a production team looking for an older actor to play the matriarch of a particular community of seniors in Florida.
The program was called The Golden Girls, and it starred Getty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White, all of whom would be remembered for their comedic talents and unforgettable performances in a show that captivated generations.
Getty-62 successfully played the quick-witted Sophia Petrillo, a mother in her 80s of Arthur’s character, Dorothy, who shared a room with Blanche (McClanahan) and Rose (White) at the time.
Getty was married to Arthur Gettleman from 1947 until his death in 2004 and was just one year older than Bea Arthur when she played her on-screen mother.
Getty’s expertly placed comments and endearing-yet-tough demeanor earned her a Daytime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe.
Getty has leading roles in successful films such as Mannequin (1987) and 1992’s Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, both with Sylvester Stallone.
Because Bea Arthur wanted to pursue other chances, Golden Girls terminated its seven-year run in 1992. Getty then reprised her role in Golden Palace, a one-season 1992 show, and later in Empty Nest (1988 to 1995), in which former co-stars White, McClanahan, and Arthur also reprised their roles from The Golden Girls.
Her Golden Girls co-stars said that Getty was having difficulty memorizing lines and, according to McClanahan, who died in 2010, she experienced panic episodes on the set of the show.
“She had an awful time remembering lines because she would freeze, she panicked. She would start getting under a dark cloud the day before tape day. You could see a big difference in her on that day. By tape day, she was unreachable. She was just as uptight as a human being can get.”
McLanahan shared of Getty, of tiny stature who stood less than 5-foot. “Finally, she asked for cue cards, which appalled us all, and at first the producers refused to stoop to such an unprofessional thing. But eventually, she had to be given cue cards for those deliciously funny Sophia stories.”
Getty was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain condition that is commonly confused with Alzheimer’s, and her outstanding performances were hampered by the strain on her body.
Her health deteriorated significantly in 2000, and she was unable to attend a Golden Girls reunion event in 2003.
Getty died quietly in her sleep in 2008, at the age of 84.
Bea Arthur died a year later at the age of 86, Rue McLanahan died in 2010 at the age of 76, and Betty White died in 2021 at the age of 99.
“I kept in touch with Estelle as long as she could stay in touch, as long as she knew who I was,” McClanahan said. “I got a huge kick out of her, always. She told very funny stories about New York.”
We are heartbroken that the world has lost Estelle Getty and her Golden Girls co-stars, but we are also grateful that the iconic actors shared their talents.