Thank you for being a friend

Picture it: America. 1985. Three well-known actresses were cast as a group of widows living together in a home in Miami.

The stellar line-up included Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Betty White all of whom had played well-known roles in other previous sitcoms. In order to round out the cast, the producers were looking for a final actress to play the part of Bea Arthur’s character, Dorothy’s curmudgeonly mother, Sophia.

Estelle Getty had auditioned for the part and been turned down because she looked too young three different times. Finally, convincing the producers that she could carry the role, Getty took the part and went down in history as “Ma” and the Golden Girls were born.

Getty served the role as surrogate mother for an entire generation of woman and gay men who were enraptured by the theme of empowerment that the show embodied. A role, in fact, that Getty seemed born to fill. Before filling Sophia’s orthopedic shoes, Getty had already served as Harvey Fierstein’s mother in the award-winning stage play “Torch Song Trilogy” where she originated the part that the late Anne Bancroft would make famous in the 1988 film of the same name. Fierstein had written the part for Getty at her request and he outdid himself scripting the part.

During her long career, Getty went on to become the archetype of strong, empowered mothers playing several high profile roles as mother to Cher, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Catrall, Barry Manilow and the entirety of the GLBT community -- which she was vocally supportive of throughout her life -- but she would never surpass her crowning achievement: Sophia Petrillo.

In her later years, Getty stopped making appearances due to her failing health and eventually passed on in the early hours of July 22, 2008.

From the first time most people can remember seeing her perform onstage in Torch Song Trilogy all the way up to her final roles later on in her life, Estelle Getty was looked upon as a mother-figure for thousands of people the world over. She served cheesecake when we were down and told funny stories that made us laugh. She comforted us when we needed it and when she wasn’t aiming her barbed tongue in our direction, we loved to see others fall under its razor sharpness.

We laughed together. We cried together. We took comfort in the knowledge that no matter what was happening in our lives “Ma” would always be there, and in our hearts she always will. Estelle Getty has exited the stage, but Sophia? Sophia will live forever.

We have no doubt that the angels in heaven are enjoying a big slice of cheesecake and gossip alongside her right now.
On behalf of every young gay boy who tuned in every Saturday night, thank you for being there, “Ma”. Thank you for a lifetime of laughs than can never be replaced. We miss you, but your memory will live on into the ages and your greatest gift to us—Sophia—will always be there to remind us of how much we loved you.

Thank you for being a mom, but most of all thank you for being a friend.    

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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