"Golden Girl" Estelle Getty has gone to the big lanai in the sky and died at the age of 84, just three days shy of her 85th birthday.
Estelle passed away at 5:35 AM this morning at her L.A. home surrounded by her family and caregivers. Getty had been suffering for years with Lewy Body Dementia.
Although one year younger than Bea Arthur, Estelle is best known for playing her wise-cracking Sicilian mother Sophia Petrillo on "The Golden Girls." Co-star Betty White is also one year older than Estelle.
Getty is survived by her two adult sons.
Thanks to pezzamistic for directing me to the Estelle Getty website:
To all of Estelle's Fans,
Sadly, today July 22, 2008 at 5:35 a.m. Pacific Time, we said our last good-byes to our little friend Estelle, who passed away and made her journey to the great beyond. Although it was a trip that she never wanted to take, she went gracefully, in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by her family and her very loving care-givers.
Estelle's legacy will live on and on through the comedy and laughter she gave to us all, which will forever keep us laughing out loud.
For us here, who have known and cared for her for so many years, we've lost our dear little friend who always kept us entertained by filling our days with joyful laughter. Estelle's fans across the globe have lost the feisty little lady known as Sophia Petrillo, whose quick wit, cutting remarks, and outrageous punch lines will forever be quoted and remembered.
Estelle was a fighter. She always stood up for the underdogs, fought for equality for all, and always pictured a world filled with "Love and Laughter" --her most favorite catch phrase.
Estelle, we love you and will miss you dearly. We pray that you are met at the Pearly Gate with open arms and a warm welcome by all who have passed before you. If there's a stage over there, I know you'll be on it. If there's a thrift shop, I know you'll be shopping, and if there's a deli, I know you'll be eating there holding court with Rhoda and Sylvia ... and the laughter will be heard throughout the heavens.
Goodbye, dear friend. Thank you for all the talent and love that you've shared with us during your time here on Earth. You have touched my life, and the lives of so many others who will never forget you.
Until we meet again...
Love and Laughter to You,
From the AP article, more about Estelle's life & reactions from Betty White and Bea Arthur:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Estelle Getty, the diminutive actress who spent 40 years struggling for success before landing a role of a lifetime in 1985 as the sarcastic octogenarian Sophia on TV's "The Golden Girls," has died. She was 84.
Getty, who suffered from advanced dementia, died at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday at her Hollywood Boulevard home, said her son, Carl Gettleman of Santa Monica.
"She was loved throughout the world in six continents, and if they loved sitcoms in Antarctica she would have been loved on seven continents," her son said. "She was one of the most talented comedic actresses who ever lived."
"The Golden Girls," featuring four female retirees sharing a house in Miami, grew out of NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff's belief that television was ignoring its older viewers.
Three of its stars had already appeared in previous series: Bea Arthur in "Maude," Betty White in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Rue McClanahan in "Mama's Family." The last character to be cast was Sophia Petrillo, the feisty 80-something mother of Arthur's character.
"Our mother-daughter relationship was one of the greatest comic duos ever, and I will miss her," Arthur said in a statement.
When she auditioned, Getty was appearing on stage in Hollywood as the carping Jewish mother in Harvey Fierstein's play "Torch Song Trilogy." In her early 60s, she flunked her "Golden Girls" test twice because it was believed she didn't look old enough to play 80.
"I could understand that," she told an interviewer a year after the show debuted. "I walk fast, I move fast, I talk fast."
She came prepared for the third audition, however, wearing dowdy clothes and telling an NBC makeup artist, "To you this is just a job. To me it's my entire career down the toilet unless you make me look 80." The artist did, Getty got the job and won two Emmys.
"The only comfort at this moment is that although Estelle has moved on, Sophia will always be with us," White said in an e-mail to The Associated Press after Getty's death was announced.
"The Golden Girls" culminated a long struggle for success during which Getty worked low-paying office jobs to help support her family while she tried to make it as a stage actress.
"I knew I could be seduced by success in another field, so I'd say, 'Don't promote me, please,'" she recalled.
She also appeared in small parts in a handful of films and TV movies during that time, including "Tootsie," "Deadly Force" and "Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story."
After her success in "The Golden Girls," other roles came her way. She played Cher's mother in "Mask," Sylvester Stallone's in "Stop or My Mom Will Shoot" and Barry Manilow's in the TV film "Copacabana." Other credits included "Mannequin" and "Stuart Little" (as the voice of Grandma Estelle).
"The Golden Girls," which ran from 1985 to 1992, was an immediate hit, and Sophia, who began as a minor character, soon evolved into a major one.
Audiences particularly loved the verbal zingers Getty would hurl at the other three. When McClanahan's libidinous character Blanche once complained that her life was an open book, Sophia shot back, "Your life's an open blouse."
Getty had gained a knack for one-liners in her late teens when she did standup comedy at a Catskills hotel. Female comedians were rare in those days, however, and she bombed.
Undeterred, she continued to pursue a career in entertainment, and while her parents were encouraging, her father also insisted that she learn office skills so she would have something to fall back on.
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. The marriage prevailed despite her long absences on the road and in "The Golden Girls."
Getty was evasive about her height, acknowledging only that she was "under 5 feet and under 100 pounds."
In addition to her son Carl, Getty is survived by son Barry Gettleman, of Miami; a brother, David Scher of London; and a sister, Rosilyn Howard of Las Vegas.