Estelle Getty, adored by fans for her portrayal of the tart-tongued octogenarian Sophia on the beloved comedy series Golden Girls, left an irreplaceable void in Hollywood when she passed away in 2008.
Throughout her career, Getty struggled quietly, facing challenges and eventually succumbing to a vicious disease. However, her birthday, July 25, serves as a reminder of the stellar entertainer she was, still making us laugh with her brilliant humor on reruns of Golden Girls.
In the 1980s, Estelle Getty’s fortunes turned around after years of performing on stage, hoping for her big break. Born in 1923 in New York, she found her launchpad role in 1982 when she was cast in the Broadway production, The Torch Song. Her character was skillfully crafted by actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, who also played the son of Getty’s character.
Despite being nearly 60 years old at the time, Getty shone as Mrs. Beckhoff in the play, a role she reprised on and off Broadway for four years. Her outstanding performance caught the attention of a production team seeking an older actor to play the matriarch of a special group of seniors in Florida. Thus, The Golden Girls was born, bringing together Getty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White, all of whom became iconic for their comedic talent and unforgettable portrayals on a show that captivated generations.
With the help of caked-on makeup and wigs, Getty, who was 62 at the time, convincingly portrayed the quick-witted Sophia Petrillo, the mother in her 80s to Dorothy (Arthur), the roommate to Blanche (McClanahan), and Rose (White). Her perfectly-timed insults and endearing yet tough personality made her a fan favorite, earning her a Daytime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe.
During her time on the show, Getty also had leading roles in successful films such as “Mannequin” (1987) and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” (1992) with Sylvester Stallone.
After a successful seven-year run, Golden Girls came to an end in 1992, but Getty continued to shine as she reprised her role in “Golden Palace,” a show that ran for one season in 1992, and later in “Empty Nest” (1988 to 1995). Unfortunately, her health started to decline, and she began to experience memory issues and panic attacks on the set of the show, as reported by her co-stars.
Getty’s declining health was later diagnosed as Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain disease often mistaken for Alzheimer’s, which took a toll on her body and affected her performances.
In 2008, at the age of 84, Estelle Getty passed away peacefully in her sleep. Her Golden Girls co-stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White also left this world in the subsequent years, leaving behind a legacy of laughter and fond memories.
Despite the challenges she faced, Estelle Getty’s talent and humor continue to be cherished through the enduring legacy of Golden Girls, and she remains in the hearts of her fans and colleagues.