Estelle Getty, Star of "Golden Girls," Dies at 84

Obituaries   Estelle Getty, Star of "Golden Girls," Dies at 84
Estelle Getty, the actress who spent decades struggling in obscurity before becoming an overnight star as a salty, back-talking grandmother in the hit sitcom "Golden Girls," died July 22 at her home on Hollywood Boulevard at the age of 84. She had been suffering from advanced dementia.
Estelle Getty
Estelle Getty

Ms. Getty played the sarcastic, fast-talking mother of Bea Arthur's character on "The Golden Girls," the sitcom about four female retirees who share a house. Though the three other actresses — Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan — were far more established, Ms. Getty's nonstop barrage of peppy, often- off-color zingers quickly grabbed viewers' attention. Much was made in the press of the fact that, though she played an octogenarian, she was actually more than a year younger than Arthur.

When she auditioned for "Golden Girls," Ms. Getty was playing Harvey Fierstein's mother on stage in the Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy. She received a Drama Desk Award

Estelle Getty with Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy.
photo by Ken Howard

nomination for her work. According to AP, she got the television job only on the third audition, after she instructed a make-up artist to make her look 80 or else. The trick worked. She got the job and went on to be nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning one. She also won a Golden Globe Award. The show ran from 1985 to 1992 and has had a long life in syndication. Her "Golden Girls" success led to a short-lived film career as a comedic actress. She played Sylvester Stallone's mother in the comedy "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot." The film was poorly reviewed and failed at the box office. Other films include "Tootsie," "Mask" and "Mannequin."

She was born Estelle Scher July 25, 1923, to Polish immigrants in New York, and was attracted to the theatre early on. She married New York businessman Arthur Gettleman (the source of her stage name) in 1947. They had two sons, Carl and Barry, who survive her. After marrying, she temporarily gave up her dreams of an acting career to raise her family and didn't return to performing until the late 1970s. She and her husband remained married until his death in 2004.

Estelle Getty with her "Golden Girls" co-stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White.
Estelle Getty with her "Golden Girls" co-stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White. Photo by Cine Text/Allstar
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