Estelle Scher-Gettleman (July 25, 1923 – July 22, 2008), better known by her stage name Estelle Getty, was an American actress, who appeared in film, theatre and television. She is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, which won her an Emmy and a Golden Globe, on The Golden Palace from 1992 to 1993 and on Empty Nest from 1993 to 1995. In her later years, after retiring from acting, she battled Lewy body dementia.
Life and career
Getty was born Estelle Scher in New York City, the daughter of Sarah and Charles Scher, Jewish immigrants from Poland who worked in the glass business. Getty got her start in the Yiddish theater and also as a comedienne in the Catskills borscht belt resorts, and among her most notable stage roles was as Harvey Fierstein's mother in Torch Song Trilogy during its original Broadway run.
She is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls. Her character was the wise-cracking Sicilian mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Beatrice Arthur (the other main characters being played by Betty White and Rue McClanahan); in real life, Getty was in fact one year younger than Arthur. Getty won an Emmy Award in 1988 for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
During her time on the The Golden Girls, she wrote an autobiography, with Steve Delsohn, titled If I Knew Then, What I Know Now... So What? (Contemporary Books, 1988). She further capitalized on her success by releasing an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993.
Getty was married to Arthur Gettleman (whose name she adapted into her stage name) from 1946 until his death in 2004. Getty had two sons: Carl Gettleman, who lives in California, and Barry Gettleman, who lives in Florida.
In 1991, as later reported in Star magazine, Getty helped to nurse her 29-year-old nephew Steven Scher, who was near death and suffering from the final stages of AIDS. Because Scher's parents lived in England and his friends were no longer able to care for him in Greensboro, North Carolina, Getty had him flown to California and admitted to hospice care. He died in January 1992.
In 2000, Getty stopped making public appearances after revealing she had Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis. In 2002, media reports claimed she was also suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Doctors later discovered she actually had Lewy body dementia; both the Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diagnoses were incorrect. Cast members attempted to talk to her on the phone or in person, but found that she couldn't remember them, or anything about the show. Bea Arthur said that Getty had so much trouble remembering her lines that they should have known something was wrong from the beginning.
In 2003, Lifetime television hosted a Golden Girls reunion, but Getty did not appear due to her failing health.
On July 22, 2008, at approximately 5:30 a.m. PDT, Getty died in her Hollywood Boulevard home in Los Angeles from natural causes three days before what would have been her 85th birthday.
Estelle Getty was buried in the Plains of Abraham (formerly Section 14) Jewish section, of Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, CA. She is interred near other entertainment notables like actors Paul Muni, Lester Allen, Felix Bressart, operatic baritone Arnold Gabor, early Hollywood film producer/screenwriter Jesse James Goldburg, former German filmmakers Joe & Mia May (Mandel), and 007 co-screenwriter Richard W. Maibaum. Allan R. Ellenberger blogged on August 1, 2009 that Estelle's tombstone was installed.
Getty's Golden Girls co-stars reflected upon her death; Rue McClanahan told the Associated Press, "Don't feel sad about her passing. She will always be with us in her crowning achievement, Sophia." Betty White remarked, "The only comfort at this moment is that although Estelle has moved on, Sophia will always be with us." Bea Arthur said in a statement, "Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the greatest comic duos ever and I will miss her."  Arthur herself died of cancer less than a year after Getty on April 25, 2009, and on June 3, 2010 Rue McClanahan died of a stroke followed by a brain hemorrhage.
In honor of Getty, Lifetime TV – which aired reruns of The Golden Girls at the time; aired ten episodes of the series featuring the best of Sophia on Friday, July 25, her birthday. Fans voted for their favorite episode on Lifetime's website. The episode "Old Friends" received the most votes and was aired last during the marathon.