Betty White, the actor whose charm and deadpan comedic delivery earned her an eight-decade career and the title of America’s most trusted celebrity, has died.
She was 99 and was set to turn 100 on Jan. 17.
White’s death was confirmed by her agent to The Associated Press.
Certified by Guinness World Records as having the longest-running career of any female television entertainer, White got her start in showbiz sometime in 1939 on a television show, dancing in her high school graduation clothes. But over the ensuing decades, White endeared herself to generations with a series of memorable roles, including on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1973-1977), “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992) and “Hot in Cleveland” (2010-2015).
As GIFs of Golden Girls one-liners spread across the internet via social media and White’s fame seemed to rise even further in the waning years of her ninth decade, she spoke to People magazine ahead of her centenary and shared her secret to longevity: “I try to avoid anything green,” she joked. “I guess it’s working.”
White appeared to embrace her viral fame as the internet claimed her as one of its favorite famous people. Know Your Meme, the meme database, includes several entries featuring White, including wholesome memes featuring the actress not being able to play with legos beyond her 99th birthday,
Born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future TV star was the only child of an electrical engineer father and homemaker mother. The family moved much closer to the center of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles, two years later.
White started in television as an assistant, but she worked her way up to become one of the first female producers in the business in 1952 with her sitcom “Life With Elizabeth,” developed with George Tibbles.
“George would drive me to the studio and we’d talk about what we were going to do, ad lib some things,” White told The Hollywood Reporter in 2010. “He’d write the script and we’d film it. When he drove me home, we’d talk about next week’s show.”
The year before the show premiered, she earned the first of her 21 Primetime Emmy Award nominations (she would win five) on her way to becoming a staple on television as both a go-to guest star and a regular on the game show circuit.
White also co-hosted NBC’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from 1963 to 1972 before joining “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973 and earning more widespread acclaim.
But White arguably became best known much later in life for her quick one-liners as the gullible yet lovable Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” which aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. White starred alongside Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, all of whom were younger than her but all of whom she outlived.
The role proved so popular that White reprised it for three other shows — “The Golden Palace,” “Empty Nest” and “Nurses” — and played a succession of similar characters on other shows.
White married three times, saying her only regret about her third husband, game show host Allen Ludden, whom she married in 1963, was that she didn’t marry him sooner, NBC’s “TODAY” show reported in 2015.
She never remarried after he died of stomach cancer in 1981.
White was an avid animal activist and worked with the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo for more than 40 years.
“I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Her passion for the cause was so great that she famously turned down a role in the 1997 film “As Good as It Gets” because there was a scene in which a dog was mistreated.
Not that she was hurting for work: White remained vivaciously sharp-witted until her death, with a wicked sense of humor that transcended her age. She continued to act in television series — such as “Hot in Cleveland,” “Bones” and “Community” — and the occasional movie, such as 2009’s “The Proposal,” later in her life.
After a successful Facebook campaign, White became the oldest person to host “Saturday Night Live” at the age of 88 in 2010.
White won eight Emmys in total (including prime-time and daytime awards) and a Grammy Award for best spoken word album for “If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).” She was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — right next to Ludden’s.
Over her long and storied career, White stayed relevant by doing what she does best: never missing the chance to deliver a good punchline.
“Somebody said something the other day about ‘first lady of television,'” she said during her speech at the 2018 Emmy Awards. “And I took it as a big compliment.”
“And then I heard her talking to her daughter a little later, she said, ‘First lady, yes, she’s that old. She was the first one, way, way back,'” White said. “But little did I dream then that I would be here.”