Estelle Getty, who won an Emmy and a Golden Globe as the tart-tongued Sophia Petrillo – mother of Bea Arthur’s character – on TV’s The Golden Girls, has died. She was 84.
Getty’s longtime manager, Alan Siegel, told PEOPLE on Tuesday: “As of 5:35 this morning, surrounded by her family in her Hollywood Hills home, Estelle Getty passed away peacefully in her sleep of natural causes. Her family and close friends thank everyone for being so loving and supportive of Estelle in her last few years.”
For many years, Getty had suffered with Lewy’s Body Dementia, which has been described as a type of Alzheimer’s disease.
Also starring with Betty White and Rue McClanahan on the NBC sitcom, Getty’s Sophia resulted in her receiving seven Emmy nominations, and a win in 1988. Equally winning were her well-delivered insults on the show. A typical Petrillo put-down: “I think there’s a connection between your brain and wallpaper paste.”
Daughter of Immigrants
Specializing in playing “old” (Getty, a contemporary of Arthur’s, was only in her early 60s when she was cast as octogenarian Sophia), the future TV star was born Estelle Scher, the daughter of Polish immigrants, on New York’s Lower East Side.
From age 5 “I wanted to be [movie queen] Claudette Colbert,” Getty told PEOPLE in 1986.
Desperate for an acting career, Estelle took lessons – then, in 1946, she took a husband: retail-glass businessman Arthur Gettleman, whose name she would later adapt as a stage professional. But first, she raised the Gettleman’s two sons, Carl and Barry.
Eventually there were off-off Broadway roles, then Harvey Fierstein cast her as his overbearing mother in Torch Song Trilogy, which opened on Broadway in 1982. The spotlight from that show resulted in her landing the role of Sophia.
Arthur Gettleman died in 2004. Her sons survive her.
“She was loved throughout the world in six continents, and if they loved sitcoms in Antarctica she would have been loved on seven continents,” Carl Gettleman told the Associated Press Tuesday. “She was one of the most talented comedic actresses who ever lived.”
Funeral services will be private, said Siegel.