Estelle “Golden Girl “Getty Dead of Lewy Dementia

Golden Girl Getty, 84, left us with laughter and hope for later life success.By Summer Sinclair

 BEVERLY HILLS, CA (RUSHPRNEWS) 7/24/08 – Emmy winner Estelle Getty, who brought joy to TV audiences worldwide as the smartass Sicilian Sophia Petrillo on NBC’s “The Golden Girls,” died Tuesday at her Hollywood home.
“Getty had been battling Lewy body dementia for the last eight or nine years,” her friend and caretaker, Paul Chapdelaine told the L.A. Times.
Before winning an Emmy in 1988 as Bea Arthur’s spitfire mother, Estelle played Harvey Fierstein’s mother on Broadway and in the national tour of “Torch Song Trilogy”. Although her Broadway role of Fierstein’s mom went to Anne Bancroft for the 1988 film version of “Torch”, Getty was already cozily at home in the “Golden Girls” bachelorette pad with Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White.


Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur were one of the funniest comic mismatches in television history. The less than five feet tall Getty was a feisty foil to Arthur’s towering presence. Though it was often Getty’s character, Sophia, that shot back the best one-liners in their mother-daughter banter battles.
Landing the role of Sophia was a challenge for Getty, as she was very close in age to Arthur. But this veteran stage actress from New York urged the make-up artist, at her third callback, to make her look eighty because her career depended on it. As it turns out, Estelle had told her managers she would only give Hollywood two months. Luckily for us, she was offered the “Golden Girls” gig within six weeks of her Hollywood trial.
Getty was also known in real life for her comic wit and deadpan deliveries. No wonder this fiery sixty-something slid so well into the role of a cantankerous, yet hilarious eighty-year-old mother.
Getty was an under-dog, not only in her miniature stature. At an age when women are often told to go home to their grandkids, she was hitting her pinnacle of success. And “Golden Girls” was a monumental show that told us women can still be sexy and single at any age! Hell, before Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, “Golden Girls” was the first “Sex and the City”, Miami retirement style.
Getty was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on July 25, 1923. She was named Estelle Scher by her Polish immigrant parents.

Her father took her to see vaudeville and movies as a young girl, which ignited her desire to pursue a career in showbiz. She wrote in her 1988 memoir, “I was stunned. I had found my world.” (“If I Knew Then What I Know Now So What?,” written with Steve Delsohn)
Getty started early studying singing, dancing and dramatics at a settlement house when she was five years old. After graduating from Seward Park High School, she began getting acting experience in upstate New York.
Estelle was married in 1946, and continued to pursue her acting career while working day jobs as a secretary. She stuck with it, and when she finally began to get some breaks, she was settling into her niche as a feisty mother to strong female and male co-stars.
She played Cher’s mom in “Mask” (1985), and Barry Manilow’s mother in the made for TV movie “Copacabana,” also in 1985. Getty even played Sylvestor Stallone’s mama in the 1992 lemon “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

Dementia is a slowly progressive brain disorder characterized by the loss of ability to think, reason and remember. In Lewy body dementia, abnormal round structures – called Lewy bodies – develop in regions of your brain involved in thinking and movement.

Lewy body dementia is rare in that it affects both mind and body – making its “body” reference something of a misnomer. It shares characteristics with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Like Alzheimer’s, it causes confusion. According to the Mayo Clinic, It may also cause distinctive physical signs typical of Parkinson’s – rigid muscles, slowed movement and tremors. Lewy body dementia can also cause hallucinations.

There’s no cure for Lewy body dementia – although some people with this disease benefit from drugs developed for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment focuses on managing the signs and symptoms.

Estelle Getty showed us that you can forge a career in later life. When many women of her generation would have given up on dreams of stardom, she used her feistiness and underdog chutzpah to warm our hearts and tickle our funny bones as the oldest “Golden Girl”. She made a career out of the ultimate ‘mother’ typecasting. So, to her we hold a torch, and mourn her passing.
Getty never returned to New York, as Hollywood had been good to her and she was certainly good for Hollywood. She was married for 57 years to her husband, Arthur Gettleman, a businessman who died in 2004. Ms. Getty is survived by her sons, Barry Gettleman and Carl Gettleman; her brother, David Scher; and her sister, Roslyn Howard.
Although Estelle Getty has passed on her golden torch, Sophia Petrillo still lives on in our syndicated memories.


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