Estelle Getty, who gained acclaim as the acerbic Sophia on the “The Golden Girls,” has died. Getty, who had suffered from dementia for years, died Tuesday. She was 84.
She was born Estelle Scher on July 25, 1923, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Polish-Jewish immigrants. Her show business career started in the Yiddish theater, and as a teenager she performed stand-up comedy in the Catskill Mountains.
In the early 1980s she was appearing as the Jewish mother in Harvey Fierstein’s play “Torch Song Trilogy” when she auditioned for the role of the octogenarian mother Sophia on “The Golden Girls.” Getty won two Emmys for the role on the NBC sitcom, which ran from 1985 to 1992. “I always told her she should be a standup comic. She was so funny in person,” Rue McClanahan, her co-star on the show, told The Associated Press. “She would always say, ‘Why couldn’t we make these characters Jewish? Why am I Sicilian?’ ” Getty once told tv.com, “I’ve played mothers to heroes and mothers to zeros. I’ve played Irish mothers, Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, Southern mothers, mothers in plays by Neil Simon and Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. I’ve played mother to everyone but Attila the Hun.”