Estelle Getty, an actress best remembered for her Emmy Award-winning role on “The Golden Girls” as an abrasive octogenarian robbed of her “tact cells” after a stroke, died Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She had dementia and was 84.
“The Golden Girls,” a sitcom about senior citizens who share a Florida home, aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. It twice won Emmy Awards for best comedy and has endured in syndication.
Getty was 61 when she portrayed Sophia through white wig, large glasses and dowdy clothing. She was an important member of the show’s acting quartet that also featured Bea Arthur as her dominating daughter.
The other cast members were Betty White as a ditzy widow and Rue McClanahan as an oversexed Southern belle who once insisted she treated her body like a temple.
“Yeah,” said Getty as Sophia, “open to everyone, day or night.”
Getty became an instant television star because of “The Golden Girls” after decades in near-obscurity as a working actress hovering, as she put it, “somewhere under five feet” and “somewhere under 90 pounds.”
She had first attracted notice as Harvey Fierstein’s overbearing Jewish mom, Mrs. Beckoff, in “Torch Song Trilogy” (1982), which ran three years on Broadway despite mixed reviews. She won the 1985 Helen Hayes Award for outstanding supporting performer in a touring production.
That stage role brought her to the attention of NBC, which cast her in “The Golden Girls,” a show the network began to counteract objections that its “Miami Vice” police drama portrayed South Florida as overly violent. “The Golden Girls” was subsequently dubbed “Miami Nice.”
The comedy brought Getty the 1988 Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series – she was nominated seven times – as well as a 1986 Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a comedy or musical TV series.
Estelle Scher was born July 25, 1923, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Polish-Jewish immigrants. In 1947, she married Arthur Gettleman, who was in the retail glass business.
Her husband died in 2004. She is survived by two sons, Barry Gettleman, of Miami, and Carl Gettleman, of Santa Monica, Calif.; a brother; and a sister.