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Golden Girls’ ‘Sophia’ dies at her home

Estelle Getty, from the television series ‘The Golden Girls,’ has died at the age of 84.

AP file photo

LOS ANGELES — 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.

“Estelle always wanted to be an actress, and she achieved that goal beyond her dreams,” former “Golden Girls” co-star Rue McClanahan told The Associated Press. “Don’t feel sad about her passing. She will always be with us in her crowning achievement, Sophia.”

“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 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.

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.

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