Born Name: Estelle Scher
Date of Birth: July 25, 1923
Place of Birth: New York City, United States
Buried: 25 July 2008, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation: Actress, comedian
Spouse(s): Arthur Gettleman (m. 1947; died 2004)
Children: Barry Gettleman, Carl Gettleman
Estelle Getty (July 25, 1923 – July 22, 2008) was an American actress and comedian, who appeared in film, television, and theatre. She was best known for her iconic 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.
Estelle Getty was born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923 to Sarah and Charles Scher. Her parents were Polish Jewish immigrants who owned a glass store in New York City. She had a sister, Roslyn, and a brother, David. Getty got her start in the Yiddish theater and also as a comedian in the Catskills borscht belt resorts.
Getty played the mother of Harvey Fierstein's character in the original Broadway run of Torch Song Trilogy.
Getty is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls. Her character was the Sicilian mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Beatrice Arthur, although Getty was, in fact, one year younger than Arthur. In 1988, the role earned Getty the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
During her time on The Golden Girls, Getty, along with Steve Delsohn, co-wrote an autobiography entitled 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.
In 1992, following her seven-season role on The Golden Girls, Getty, with Betty White and Rue McClanahan returned as their characters Sophia Petrillo, Rose Nylund and Blanche Devereaux respectively, in the spin-off series, The Golden Palace. The new show saw the three remaining cast members from the original series invest in a Miami hotel. The series was cancelled after just one season. Getty reprised her role of Sophia once again for a guest appearance in Nurses, and for the final time when she joined Empty Nest, another spin-off series from The Golden Girls. She appeared in the series for the final two seasons.
Getty made numerous guest appearances on a diverse variety of popular television series, including Fantasy Island, Cagney & Lacey, Blossom, Touched by an Angel, Mad About You and The Nanny. Her numerous film roles include Tootsie, Mask and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, alongside Sylvester Stallone, which earned her a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress.
Getty attended Seward Park High School in New York City.
She was married to Arthur Gettleman (whose name she adapted into her stage name) from December 21, 1947 until his death in 2004. The couple 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.
Illness and death
In 2000, Getty stopped making public appearances after revealing she had Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis. Upon reassessment, Getty's diagnosis was revised to Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia that has similar symptoms to both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Golden Girls cast members who attempted to talk to her on the phone or in person found that she couldn't remember them, or anything about the show. Bea Arthur said that even during production of the series, 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, The Golden Girls: Their Greatest Moments. In 2008, the show was awarded the Pop Culture award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. Getty did not participate in either project due to declining health.
Getty died of complications from Lewy body dementia on July 22, 2008, three days before her 85th birthday. She is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
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