Estelle Getty was sadly absent from last week's Golden Girls DVD release party due to poor heath. Despite those rumors in the tabs, the 81-year-old actress — best known as Sicilian sasspot Sophia Petrillo — is not dying. However, she does suffer from dementia.
"She's out of it," her TV daughter, Bea Arthur, tells TV Guide Online. "Occasionally, she's aware... We really should have known back then [during the series' run] because, of the four of us, she absolutely couldn't retain lines. It was impossible. She had to use cue cards or a TelePrompTer.
"It was annoying," Arthur admits, then sympathetically adds, "but I'm sure that was the onset [of her illness], which we had no idea about."
Arthur and costars Rue McClanahan and Betty White have remained in touch with Getty, though it hasn't been easy due to her declining mental state. "It's so sad," Arthur says. "Rue has tried to call Estelle a number of times, as I have. And, of course, every time you call, the nurse will tell you that she's out of it. So Rue asked the nurse to call her when Estelle is coherent.
"Rue got on the phone to speak to her and said, 'Hi sweetie, this is Rue calling. I just want to know how you are.' And Estelle just said, 'Yes.' And later, the nurse told Rue that Estelle said, 'That was a nice woman.' She's out of it."
While Getty's health issues may've affected her during Golden Girls
' original run, viewers never would've known she had trouble with her lines. Sophia's mind — and that saucy tongue of hers — always appeared sharp as a tack. "Our director, Terry Hughes
, was brilliant," Arthur nods knowingly. "It was a terrific organization, from the writers to the directors, the producers, the costuming and the lighting. We were very lucky."