Legendary television personality Betty White dead at 99

Posted Friday, December 31, 2021 2:51:42 PM
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Legendary actor, comedian, and humanitarian Betty White has died. The multi-award-winning White, who appeared on three soap operas, was 99.

The world is mourning the passing of legendary television personality and humanitarian Betty White. The actress passed away in her home earlier today at the age of 99.

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever," her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas said in a statement on Friday. "I will miss her terribly, and so will the animal world that she loved so much."

Born January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White, an only child, went on to become a trailblazer and pioneer in media. She holds the longest-running career for any woman in television, a career that started way back in 1939 and spanned eight decades.

White's first comedy series, Life with Elizabeth, brought her first Emmy Award in 1952, followed by a daily NBC talk/variety show called The Betty White Show. She was a recurring regular with over 70 appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, and she appeared on The Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She also subbed as host on all three talk shows. White was a regular with Vicki Lawrence on Mama's Family, as Ellen, a role she created with the rest of the company on The Carol Burnett Show.

White's breakout role came in 1973 when she played Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She went on to find a new audience in the NBC series The Golden Girls, where she played the lovable, sometimes dimwitted, Rose Nylund. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for her work on the series -- along with six other nominations. With White's Rose so entrenched in the public zeitgeist, it seems almost impossible to believe that she had originally been offered the role of sexy Southern belle Blanche Deveraux.

Post-Golden Girls, White often took on roles that were the polar opposite of Rose. She played the crotchety Catherine Piper on both The Practice and its spinoff Boston Legal.

It was that sort of cantankerous persona that led to White being cast as Ann Douglas on The Bold and the Beautiful in 2006. It was not White's first soap role. In 1988, White appeared as a waitress on Santa Barbara during a one-episode stunt appearance. That same year, White portrayed Brenda Barlowe on Another World. White continued to make guest appearances on B&B through 2009. In 2015, White was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Daytime Emmys.

"Betty White has been part of the Emmy family since its inception. In addition to multiple Emmy nominations and wins, she was a regular on Password, with her husband, Allen Ludden, as well as a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement recipient," Adam Sharp, President/CEO of NATAS, tells Soap Central in a statement. "Betty has touched the heart of just about every individual in our industry, in just about every conceivable field of entertainment. A force of nature, she was a television pioneer and her influence will remain for generations to come."

In 2010, White was again introduced to another generation of fans. She starred in a Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. The spot led to a public groundswell for White to host Saturday Night Live -- and she became the oldest person to ever host the show. The gig that earned her another Emmy.

After SNL, she went on to star and steal scenes on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland. In 2012, she starred in the NBC comedy reality show Betty White's Off Their Rockers.

White's career resurgence also led to her starring on the TV Land original series Hot In Cleveland from 2010 to 2015. General Hospital's Sydney Mikayla (Trina Robinson) appeared on episode of Hot In Cleveland in 2012 and shared a photo of herself with White with the caption, "So happy I had the chance to meet you."

Throughout her career, White also made frequent appearances on game shows. Among those shows were Match Game, Hollywood Squares, and Password, where she got to appear on-screen with her real-life husband, Allen Ludden.

"I don't think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again," Witjas also said in a statement.

White has devoted much of her life to advocacy to animals. White once told TV Guide, "I've loved animals since I was in the womb." She created, produced, and hosted a 1971 animal show called the Pet Set, which featured both wild animals and her celebrity friends' own pets, with stars like Doris Day and Bob Barker making guest appearances. She also wrote the 2011 book Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo and hosted specials like Hero Dog Awards, Big Cat Week, and Betty White Goes Wild -- and even lent her voice to the animated series of Pound Puppies.

A passionate supporter of animal health and welfare, White held the title of Chairman of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, served on the board, and had an eight-year tenure as Zoo Commissioner. In 2006, White was honored by the City of Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Zoo as "Ambassador to the Animals" for her lifelong work for animal welfare. Betty also served as President Emeritus of Morris Animal Foundation and had been a trustee since 1971.

In a 2021 interview with People, White credited "having a sense of humor" as the key to a long and happy life.

What are some of your favorite memories of Betty White? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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