Estelle Getty

Estelle Getty

Getty at the 41st Primetime Emmy Awards in 1989
Born Estelle Scher
(1923-07-25)July 25, 1923
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died July 22, 2008(2008-07-22) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Lewy body dementia
Other names Estelle Shweet-Gettleman
Occupation Actress, comedian
Years active 1974–2001
Television The Golden Girls
The Golden Palace
Empty Nest
Religion Judaism
Spouse(s) Arthur Gettleman
(m. 1947–2004; his death)
Children 2

Estelle Getty (née Scher; 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 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.[1]

Early life

Estelle Getty was born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923 to Sarah and Charles Scher in New York City. Her parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants. Her father was employed in the glass business. She had a sister, Roslyn, and a brother, David.[2] Getty got her start in the Yiddish theater and also as a comedian in the Catskills borscht belt resorts,[3] and among her most notable stage roles was as Harvey Fierstein's mother in Torch Song Trilogy during its original Broadway run.[4]


Getty is best known for her role as Sophia Petrillo on the popular 1980s sitcom, The Golden Girls.[5] Her character was the Sicilian mother of Dorothy Zbornak, played by Bea Arthur, although Getty was, in fact, one year younger than Arthur.[6][7] In 1988, the role earned Getty the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress.[8]

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).[2] She further capitalized on her success by releasing an exercise video for senior citizens in 1993.[9]

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 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress.

Personal life

Getty attended Seward Park High School in New York City.[10]

She was married to Arthur Gettleman (whose name she adapted into her stage name) from December 21, 1947 until his death in 2004.[10] The couple had two sons: Carl Gettleman, who lives in California, and Barry Gettleman, who lives in Florida.[11]

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.[12] 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.[11] 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.[13][14]

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.

Grave of Estelle Getty at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Getty died of Dementia with Lewy bodies on July 22, 2008, three days before her 85th birthday.[1]


Emmy Awards

Getty at the 1988 Emmy Awards

* 1988 – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy SeriesThe Golden Girls – (Won)

Golden Globe Awards

* 1985 – Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy Series – The Golden Girls – (Won)

Drama Desk Award

Helen Hayes Awards



Year Title Role Notes
1978 Team-Mates Teacher
1982 Tootsie Middle Aged Woman
1983 Deadly Force Gussie
1984 No Man's Land Eurol Miller Television film
1984 Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story Television movie
1985 Mask Evelyn
1985 Copacabana Bella Stern Television movie
1987 Mannequin Mrs. Claire Timkin
1992 Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot Mrs. Tutti Bomowski Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1997 A Match Made in Heaven Betty Weston Television movie
1999 The Sissy Duckling Mrs. Hennypecker (voice) Television movie
1999 Stuart Little Grandma Estelle
2000 The Million Dollar Kid Sister Rosanne


Year Title Role Notes
1981 Nurse Sadie Mandler Episode: "Equal Opportunity"
1982 Baker's Dozen Mrs. Locasale Episode: "Dear John"
1984 Fantasy Island Money Lady Episode: "The Match Maker"
1984 Cagney & Lacey Mrs. Rosenmeyer Episode: "Baby Broker"
1984 Hotel Roberta Abrams Episode: "Intimate Strangers"
1985 Newhart Miriam the Librarian Episode: "What Makes Dick Run"
1985–1992 The Golden Girls Sophia Petrillo 180 episodes
American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Female in a Television Series (1991–92)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1986–87, 1989–92)
1987 Roomies Mama Episode: "Mid-Term Fever"
1990 City Helen Rutledge Episode: "Seems Like Old Times"
1990 The Earth Day Special Sophia Petrillo
1991 The Fanelli Boys Episode: "Doctor, Doctor""
1991 Blossom Sophia Petrillo Episode: "I Ain't Got No Body"
1992–1993 The Golden Palace Sophia Petrillo 24 episodes
1993 Nurses Sophia Petrillo Episode: "Temporary Setbacks"
1993–1995 Empty Nest Sophia Petrillo 52 episodes
1996 Touched by an Angel Dottie Episode: "The Sky Is Falling"
1996 Brotherly Love Myrna Burwell Episode: "Motherly Love"
1997 Mad About You Paul's aunt Episode: "The Birth – Part 1"
1997 Duckman Aunt Jane (voice) Episode: "Westward, No!"
1998 The Nanny Herself Episode: "Making Whoopi"
2000 Ladies Man Sophia Gates Episode: "Romance"
2001 Intimate Portrait: Estelle Getty Herself
2001 It's Like, You Know... Herself Episode: "Lust for Life"

Live theatre


  1. 1 2 Carlson, Michael (July 24, 2008). "Obituary: Estelle Getty". Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Estelle Getty Biography (1923-)". Film Reference. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  3. "Goodbye Golden Girl: Comic actress Estelle Getty dies at 84". Haaretz. July 23, 2008. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  4. Simonson, Robery (July 22, 2008). "Estelle Getty, Star of "Golden Girls," Dies at 84". Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  5. Weber, Bruce (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 'Golden Girls' Matriarch, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  6. Lansden, Pamela (March 31, 1986). "Estelle Getty Zings for Her Supper as Bea Arthur's Zap-Happy Mom on Golden Girls". Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  7. Lawson, Sarah (November 19, 2012). "Great Moments in Age-Inappropriate Casting". The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  8. Bernstein, Adam (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girl' Actress Won an Emmy Award". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  9. Glenn Haas, Jane (December 31, 1993). "Estelle Getty leads a workout for seniors". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  10. 1 2 Luther, Claudia (July 23, 2008). "Estelle Getty, 84; 'Golden Girls' actress brought humor, depth to mother roles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  11. 1 2 "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  12. "Estelle Getty". Gay Globe Magazine Média TV. Retrieved November 16, 2013.
  13. "A 'Golden Girl's Tragic Battle with Dementia". Entertainment Tonight. November 19, 2004. Archived from the original on February 8, 2005. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
  14. Fonseca, Nicholas (April 24, 2009). "'Golden Girls': A 20th Anniversary Oral History". Entertainment Weekly. p. 3. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
  15. "Torch Song Trilogy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
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