Estelle Getty, the actress that played Sophia Petrillo on “The Golden Girls” has died of lewy body dementia at age 84, three days shy of her 85th birthday.
Estelle Getty, suffered for years from advanced dementia, called lewy body dementia, and died today at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at her Hollywood home, said her son, Carl Gettleman of Santa Monica, California.
“Estelle always wanted to be an actress, and she achieved that goal beyond her dreams,” the former “Golden Girls” co-star Rue McClanahan said Tuesday. “Don’t feel sad about her passing. She will always be with us in her crowning achievement: Sophia.”
“The Golden Girls,” featuring four female retirees sharing a house in Miami, grew out of the fact Brandon Tartikoff, then NBC programming chief, believed that television was not catering to older television viewers.
Three of the stars of “The Golden Girls” had already appeared in previous series: Bea Arthur in “Maude,” Betty White in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and McClanahan in “Mama’s Family.” The last character to be cast was Sophia Petrillo, the feisty 80-something mother of Arthur, played by actress Estelle Getty.
“Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the greatest comic duos ever, and I will miss her,” Arthur said in a statement.
When she auditioned, Getty was appearing on stage in Hollywood as the carping Jewish mother in Harvey Fierstein’s play “Torch Song Trilogy.” Then in her early 60s, she flunked her “Golden Girls” test twice because it was believed she did not look old enough to play the part of an 80-year old.
“I could understand that,” Getty said a year after the show debuted. “I walk fast, I move fast, I talk fast.”
For her third audition for “The Golden Girls”, Estelle Getty arrived wearing dowdy clothes and said to an NBC makeup artist, “To you this is just a job. To me it’s my entire career down the toilet unless you make me look 80.”
Obviously the make-up artist was good, and Estelle Getty win on to win an Emmy for her Sophia Petrillo character on “The Golden Girls”.
“The only comfort at this moment is that although Estelle has moved on, Sophia will always be with us,” White said in an e-mail message sent to The Associated Press.
“The Golden Girls” culminated a long struggle for success during which Getty worked low-paying office jobs to help support her family while she tried to make it as a stage actress.
“I knew I could be seduced by success in another field, so I’d say, ‘Don’t promote me, please,”‘ she recalled.
Getty also made appearances in small parts in several films and TV movies during that time, including “Tootsie,” “Deadly Force” and “Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story.”
After her success in “The Golden Girls,” other roles came her way. She played Cher’s mother in “Mask,” Sylvester Stallone’s mother in “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot” and Barry Manilow’s mother in the television film “Copacabana.” Other credits include “Mannequin” and “Stuart Little,” as the voice of Grandma Estelle.
Getty was evasive about her height, definitely a tiny woman, acknowledging only that she was “under 5 feet and under 100 pounds.”
In addition to her son Carl, Getty is survived by son Barry Gettleman, of Miami; a brother, David Scher of London; and a sister, Rosilyn Howard of Las Vegas.