Estelle Getty, best known for her portrayal of acid-tongued Sicilian mother Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, died Tuesday morning (July 22), three days short of her 85th birthday. She had been battling advanced dementia for years. According to her website, she passed away in her own home, surrounded by family.
Born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923, Getty started out her career in the Yiddish theater, but her focus soon shifted to settling down and raising a family with Arthur Gettleman, whom she married in 1946. They remained together until Arthur’s death in 2004.
She didn’t return to acting until many years later, making her first screen appearance in 1978’s Team-Mates, followed by small parts in Tootsie and Mask. But it was her 1982 role on Broadway as Harvey Fierstein’s interfering mother in the play Torch Song Trilogy that catapulted her into the limelight and landed her the role of Sophia on The Golden Girls in 1985. Always ready with a cutting remark, Sophia was an integral part of the series’ character and earned Getty seven consecutive Supporting Actress Emmy nominations between 1986 and 1992, including a win in 1988. Her performance also earned three Golden Globe nominations, including a win for Leading Role in a Comedy series in 1986. She also reprised the role in several spin-off shows, including The Golden Palace and Empty Nest.
Getty is survived by sons Carl and Barry Gettleman, a brother, David Scher, and a sister, Rosilyn Howard.
Share your memories of Estelle Getty and her acerbic Sophia at our PopWatch tribute.