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So Long, Sophia: Estelle Getty 1923-2008

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A lot of us grew up with The Golden Girls, from their unprecedented success on NBC's Saturday night sitcom lineup to the now-ubiquitous Lifetime reruns. It was a show that probably shouldn't have been a hit--four elderly women sharing a home in Miami in the mid-1980s--but thanks to its incredibly sharp (and still funny) dialogue and the talents of its four leading ladies, the show has earned its place as a pop culture icon.

One of the funniest ladies was without a doubt Estelle Getty, who, although only in her 60s, donned a wig and aging make-up to play acerbic matriarch Sophia Petrillo, the diminutive Sicilian in her 80s who never minced words. Getty had been working mostly on the New York stage before landing the role that would make her everyone's favorite "Ma" and was the least known cast member (Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McLanahan had been on numerous previous television shows) but what began as a minor role soon turned into a core part of the show. The character's love of storytelling led to her trademark "Picture it" set up, and her biting remarks about others along with self-referential bits about her old age made for unforgettable laughs.

Estelle Getty died in her home on Hollywood Boulevard at about 5:30 this morning. She was just three days shy of her 85th birthday.

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According to an AP article, Getty was "born Estelle Scher to Polish immigrants in New York, Getty fell in love with theater when she saw a vaudeville show at age 4. She married New York businessman Arthur Gettleman (the source of her stage name) in 1947, and they had two sons, Carl and Barry." She performed stand-up comedy in the Catskills as a teenager, and struggled through the 50s and 60s as a mother and working actress. She won acclaim for her role in Broadway's Torch Song Trilogy and had bit parts in films before her 8 year gig on The Golden Girls. After the show ended in 1992, she remained on board for the follow-up series, The Golden Palace that ran less than one season. Although she participated in some television specials about the show, several years ago she withdrew from the spotlight as a result of her suffering from dementia. She did not attend the recent TV Land Awards, which honored The Golden Girls series.

Some funny Sophia moments: