Legendary ‘Golden Girls’ star Betty White dies aged 99

Betty White

Legendary comedy actor Betty White has died just three weeks short of her 100th birthday.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,”  her agent Jeff Witjas said.

“She meant the world to me as a friend. She was the most positive person I’ve ever known.”

Witjas said White had been staying close to her Los Angeles home during the pandemic, but had no diagnosed illness. The actor passed away in her sleep on Thursday evening.

The much loved television star began her career in radio in the 1930’s and became a television star in the 1960’s as part of the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show before finding further success in The Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland. Moore was working on the sitcom until it’s cancelation in 2014 when she was 92 years old.

In an interview published in the US magazine People this week, White had spoken about looking forward to her 100th birthday which would have been on January 17th.

White said she had always been a “cockeyed optimist”.

“I got it from my mum, and that never changed,” White said. “I always find the positive.”

Born in 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, a teenage Betty White and her family moved to Los Angeles during The Great Depression. She first found success on radio and her made her television debut in 1939 singing songs from The Merry Widow on an experimental channel that was pioneering the new technology.

After serving in the American Women’s Voluntary Service during World War II, she returned to television appearing in variety shows. In 1952 White was a television pioneer when she became the star and producer of comedy show Life With Elizabeth which ran until 1955.

In 1954 White became the host of her own variety talk show The Betty White Show. When the shows popularity grew White was asked to remove African-American performer Arthur Duncan from the program, as the network faced trouble selling it to markets in the US south where racial segregation still exisited. White refused, famously telling network executives to “live with it” and in response she ensured Duncan featured more prominently on the show.

Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s White became a regular guest on game shows and late night talk programs, and was often providing commetary on parades and celebrations.

In 1973 Moore made several appearances on the sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show playing Sue Ann Nivens. First appearing during the show’s fourth season, she was soon a regular cast member, staying with the show until it’s final episode in 1977.

White scored the role which she became most well known for, playing Rose Nylund on the sitcom The Golden Girls from 1985. Appearing alongside Rue McCalahan, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty the show became a global sensation. The cast created 180 episodes of the show over seven seasons.

After Arthur chose to leave the show in 1992, the remaining three co-stars continued on in spin-off program Golden Palace, but it would only run for one season. White returned to playing Rose Nylund though in appearances on Empty Nest and Nurses.

White continued on television making guest appearances on Suddenly Susan and Yes Dear. She even appeared on 22 episodes of soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. On The Practice she played recurring character Catherine Piper, a role shew reprised on spin-off show Boston Legal.   

In 2009 White starred alongside Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in the film The Proposal, made an iconic Snickers commercial for the Superbowl, and the following year became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live. 

White was originally only slated to appear in the pilot episode of sitcom It’s Hot in Cleveland but was persuaded to sign up as a regular cast member along Jane Leeves, Wensie Malick and Valerie Bertinelli. The show enjoyed a six-year run.

The actor was married three times, but found happiness with television host Allen Ludden. The couple met when she was a guest on the game she Password in 1961, Ludden was the show’s host.

Ludden died of stomach cancer in 1981. During an interview with Larry King, asked if she would ever remarry, White responded, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest.”

When White appeared on Inside The Actor’s Studio host James Lipton asked White the seven questions he concluded all his interviews with, concluding with If God exists, what would White like to hear him say at the Pearly Gates. White answered, “Hello Betty. Here’s Allen.”

OIP Staff

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