Betty White, the self-described “lucky old broad” who played sweetly sardonic senior citizen characters on television programs and films like The Golden Girls and Out to Sea, died Friday, her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas told People magazine in a statement.
She was just weeks away from her 100th birthday on Jan. 17 at the age of 99.
“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas said. “I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much. 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.”
For the first half of her career, which eventually earned Guinness World Records status as the longest television career by a woman entertainer, White was a normal, yet not particularly recognized, presence on radio and television.
She appeared on such shows as “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “You Bet Your Life” and the aforementioned film “Advise and Consent.” She’d occasionally appear on game shows, especially Allen Ludden’s “Password.”
“It was a little out of character, a little unfeminine, to be … you shouldn’t be funny,” White recalled in a 2017 interview with CNN, reminiscing about her early days in Hollywood. Noting that women at the time were expected to simply “come in and be pretty,” White countered: “No, it’s so much more fun to get that laugh.”
Beginning with her performance as acerbic kitchen diva Sue Ann Nivens on the 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which began when she was 51, White has cultivated a talent for playing the seemingly-purehearted elderly with Midwestern sincerity who had a randy internal life. In doing so, she built a new generation of
On “Boston Legal,” she played a flinty and sometimes violent secretary. She had a guest appearance on “The Simpsons” and hosted “Saturday Night Live,” becoming the oldest person to ever do so. She also appeared in a self-mocking commercial for Snickers chocolate bars, which is the oldest woman to have done so.
She handled everything, from her career to her hobbies, with aplomb. She didn’t take anything seriously, whether it was work or play.
“I’m having the time of my life, and the fact that I’m still working — how lucky can you get?” she told the Huffington Post in 2012.
She continued to wonder why she was once again receiving attention when she overheard a friend tell someone else, “And he’s been promoting. I’ve seen him on TV. The name of the book is What I Did and What You Can Do When Your Child Is Adapting After an Accident.” She’d forgotten about all those years’ worth of work
“I don’t know where the ‘comeback’ story came (from),” she told Oprah Winfrey in 2015. “I’ve been working steadily for the last 70 years!”
She never took anything for granted, remaining down-to-earth, somewhat cheeky, and likeable to the public.
“I am the luckiest old broad on two feet,” she told CNN in 2017. “I’m still able to get a job, at this age. I will go to my grave saying ‘Can I come in and read for that tomorrow?'”
We’ll miss you, Betty.
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