Estelle Getty dies at 84

Emmy winner beloved for 'Golden Girls' role

Estelle Getty, who played meddling mother Sophia on "The Golden Girls," died Tuesday morning. She was 84.

Getty, who suffered from advanced dementia, died around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at her Hollywood Boulevard home, said her son, Carl Gettleman of Santa Monica.

Getty won an Emmy Award in 1988 for her portrayal of the feisty octogenarian. For her role as Sophia, Getty also notched a Golden Globe Award in 1986. She also received an American Comedy Award.

Getty co-starred on "Golden Girls" from 1985-92 and reprised the tart-tongued Sophia on four other TV series: "The Golden Palace," "Nurses," "Empty Nest" and "Blossom." Getty was two months younger than Bea Arthur, who played her daughter, but the illusion of her age was maintained through makeup, costume and her deportment.

In similar vein of take-no-prisoners elder, Getty played Sylvester Stallone's domineering mother, Tutti Bomowski, in "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot." Generically, it was a battling-buddy movie whose comic thrust was the diminutive Getty's bossing around her L.A. lawman son.

Getty was 47 when she got her first significant role in an off-Broadway musical: She gained immediate prominence when she played in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Torch Song Trilogy," playing Harvey Fierstein's acidic mother.

She played Grandma Estelle Little in "Stuart Little" in 1999, and more recently played Sister Roseanne" in "The Million Dollar Kid."

She also appeared on "Hollywood Squares" in 1998.

Born as Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923, in New York City, she acted at an early age, performing in the "borscht belt" circuit. In 1923, she married Arthur Gettleman and raised their two children in Queens. While married, she worked as a secretary in a law office, but continue to act in small theater in New York.

She won her first movie part in 1978 in the teen comedy "Team Mates: Young Gangs of Wildwood High." She also garnered small parts in "Tootsie" and "Mask," in which she played the mother of Cher's character. The same year, she played Barry Manilow's mother in the TV movie "Copacabana."

Her movie career accelerated when she played the mannequin's (Kim Cattrall) mother in "Mannequin" (1987).

She requested that Fierstein write a part for her, which he did in "Torch Song Trilogy." The middle-aged Getty improbably became the toast of the town and was spotted by the "Golden Girls" producers who asked her to audition. Arriving in character -- an oversized thrift shop polyester dress -- she landed the part.

She was a vocal supporter of gay rights and active in fundraising for AIDS research. She retired in 2000 after revealing she was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Two years later, she announced she was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

Getty's other films credits include "Deadly Force," "The Sissy Duckling," "A Match Made in Heaven" and "The Golden Fleece," all filmed in the '90s.

Getty wrote an autobiography, "If I Knew Then What I Know Now ... So What?" In it, she summarized: "I've played mothers to heroes and mothers to zeroes."

Getty made numerous TV guest star appearances, including: "Cagney & Lacey," "Hotel," "Newhart," "The Crew," "The John Larroquette Show," "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," "Touched by an Angel," "Mad About You" and "Ladies Man."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
comments powered by Disqus