Sunday, January 2, 2022

Beloved TV Icon Betty White Dead on the Cusp of 100th Birthday

 A few weeks shy of her 100th birthday, Betty White, the beloved actress and comedian whose career in Hollywood spanned nearly eight decades and included stints on hit shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls, has died. She was 99.


White died at her home in California on Friday, Dec. 31. A representative for the Los Angeles Fire Department told Rolling Stone: “We responded to a medical aid request. The call was received at 9:33 a.m. We have determined death of an approximately 99-year-old female.”

White’s agent and friend, Jeff Witjas, told People, “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever. 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.” 

White was set to turn 100 years old on Jan. 17, and the actress was going to celebrate the milestone with a special movie event, Betty White:100 years Young, which was to feature White sharing stories from throughout her career, plus classic clips from her filmography and a lost episode from her first sitcom. Plenty of celebrity guests had been tapped to appear as well, including Ryan Reynolds, Tina Fey, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Morgan Freeman, Jay Leno, Carol Burnett, and others. 

In an interview with People, published on Dec. 28, White said, “I’m so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age.” She added that she was “born a cockeyed optimist.… I got it from my mom, and that never changed. I always find the positive.”

White’s remarkable résumé included work in radio, television, and film, while she also penned several books — both fiction and nonfiction — and worked tirelessly as an activist for animal rights. She was nominated for 21 prime-time Emmys and won five, her first for Supporting Actress on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1976, her last for guest-hosting Saturday Night Live in 2010. A tireless worker, White joked during an interview with CNN in February 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?’ “

While White’s myriad roles included TV commentator, soap-opera star, and regular host and guest on various game shows and talk shows, she was best known for her work in comedy. Early on in her career, White said, she was regularly typecast as “icky sweet,” but her turn as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show allowed her to embrace such cloying characteristics while subverting them with a ribald edge that became her trademark for decades to come.

Born outside Chicago in 1922, White’s family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression. She discovered acting in high school, and in the Forties scored her first jobs on radio, eventually garnering her own program, The Betty White Show. In 1949, she landed her first major television role as the co-host of Hollywood on Television, a live, local variety show that ran for a whopping five and a half hours, six days a week. White outlasted her co-host, Al Jarvis, and helmed the show solo for several years, honing her comedic craft.

“When you’re on that many hours with no script, you know, you get very comfortable — maybe overly comfortable  — with that small audience,” she told NPR in 2011. “As I say, you hit and run. If there’s a double meaning, you drop it, and then you try to get away as fast as you can.… You can go past that magic moment to comment on something, and the laugh is killed.”

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