Actress Betty White, who made US television audiences laugh for more than seven decades, starring on popular sitcoms “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died Friday at age 99.
The pioneering Emmy-winning comedienne enjoyed one of the longest careers in showbiz history: she began regularly appearing on television in 1949 and had a voice role in “Toy Story 4” in 2019.
“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” her agent Jeff Witjas told People magazine in a statement.
“I will miss her terribly.”
TMZ, citing law enforcement sources, said she died at her home on Friday. The cause of death was not immediately revealed.
The news sparked an outpouring of tributes, with President Joe Biden tweeting, “Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She’s a cultural icon who will be sorely missed.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, said White was “a legend, trailblazer and cultural icon who blessed generations with her talent and humor. She will be truly missed.”
White was one of the first woman producers on the 1950s sitcom “Life With Elizabeth,” in which she also starred.
Later, as a nonagenarian, she interacted with much younger fans on Instagram.
“It’s incredible that I’m still in this business — and you are still putting up with me!” White said at the 2018 Emmys.
In all, she won five primetime Emmys, two daytime awards including one for lifetime achievement, and a regional Emmy in Los Angeles.
White, whose signature halo of white-blonde hair and clear blue eyes were instantly recognizable, adopted a variety of on-screen personas.
She went from playing a 1950s housewife on “Elizabeth” to a man-hungry 1970s TV personality on “Moore” to a doe-eyed 1980s “Golden Girl” retiree.
In real life, she loved delivering irreverent one-liners.
When asked by late-night host David Letterman about her favorite pastimes, the long-time animal welfare advocate replied: “(I like to) play with animals, mostly. And vodka’s kind of a hobby.”
– Golden girl –
Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922 in the outskirts of Chicago. The family moved to California during the Great Depression.
White said her love of acting started with a school production, but she credited her parents — a homemaker and a lighting company executive — as her comedic inspiration.
After a few years of modeling, she did a stint in the American Women’s Voluntary Services during World War II.
That service drew a tweet Friday from the official US Army Twitter account, saying, “We are saddened by the passing of Betty White… a true legend on and off the screen.”
After the war, White segued to radio gigs, reading commercials and playing small roles.
Her first regular television work came in 1949 on the variety show “Hollywood on Television.” A few years later, she co-created “Life with Elizabeth.”
It was through her early television career that White met Allen Ludden, her third and last husband, who hosted the game show “Password,” on which she appeared frequently.
She became a game show staple in the 1960s and 1970s, before Mary Tyler Moore came calling.
White would go on to win two Emmys for her portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens on the newsroom sitcom.
Career lightning struck again in the mid-1980s with “The Golden Girls,” about four older women sharing a house in Miami.
White was Rose Nylund, the ditzy Minnesota native who was the foil to the more sophisticated characters played by Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty.
“Bea was not that fond of me,” White said in an interview with HLN in 2011. “But I loved Bea and I admired her.”
White won another Emmy for the role of Rose.
– Late success –
As White aged, she won over an entirely new generation of viewers — millennials who watched “Golden Girls” reruns — with her snarky, sometimes bawdy wit.
She also starred on TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” and hosted the hidden camera prank show “Off Their Rockers.”
She even returned to game shows on a revamped “To Tell The Truth.”
In 2010, at age 88, White became the oldest-ever host of long-running comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live” — an experience she called “probably the most fun I’ve ever had, and the scariest.”
SNL veteran and late-night TV host Seth Meyers tweeted Sunday that White was “the only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed till the bitter end.”
White chalked up her long career to being “blessed.”
In addition to her multiple Emmys, White was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1995.
She won three Screen Actors Guild awards, including a lifetime achievement trophy in 2010. In 2011, she took home a Grammy for the audio version of one of her books.
White and Ludden were married from 1963 until his death in 1981. The actress never remarried and had no children of her own.
© Agence France-Presse