A 5-foot-tall embodiment of the phrase "Late Bloomer," Estelle Getty was 47 years old when she made her first off-Broadway stage appearance. Getty gained renown in 1982 for her vitriolic performance as Harvey Fierstein's mother in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Torch Song Trilogy. She made the first of several brief film appearances that same year. When the call went out for an actress to play Sophia Petrillo, a peppery octogenarian whose recent stroke robbed her brain of its "tact"cells, in the upcoming TV series Golden Girls, Getty auditioned, only to be turned down because she was too young for the role. Four auditions later, she landed the part by hiring a makeup artist to add some 20 years to her facial features, wearing a too-big thrift shop dress, and remaining in character throughout the interview. She played Sophia on Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, reprising the character for the spin-off series Golden Palace (1992) and for two year's worth of appearances on another sitcom, Empty Nest. For her efforts, Getty won a 1987 Emmy, a Golden Globe, and an American Comedy Award. She also evidently became typecast for life, as witness her Sophia-like co-starring performance in the 1992 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. A handful of similar guest-starring roles in popular '90s series, including Mad About You and Touched By an Angel, followed that performance. During her first rush of TV fame, Getty also published her autobiography, If I Knew Then What I Know Now...So What?. She died of complications related to advanced dementia in the summer of 2008.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Was inspired to become an actress when her parents took her to see a Vaudevillian production at the New York Academy of Music when she was four years old.
- Landed the role of Harvey Fierstein's character's meddlesome mother in the Broadway production of Torch Song Trilogy (1981); received a Drama Desk Award nomination.
- Best-known for her role as Sophia Petrillo, mother to Bea Arthur's character, on The Golden Girls; Arthur was actually two-and-a-half months older than Getty.
- Known for her activism in AIDS fund-raising and gay rights.
- Retired from acting and discontinued public appearances in 2000 after announcing she was suffering from Parkinson's Disease; was later diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.