Betty White, the self-described “lucky old broad” whose sweetly sarcastic senior citizen characters were a beloved fixture on TV shows and movies such as “The Golden Girls,” “Boston Legal” and “Hot in Cleveland,” died Friday, her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas told People magazine in a statement.
At 99, she was just weeks away from celebrating her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.
“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 — eventually honored by Guinness World Records as the longest television career by a female entertainer — White was a regular, but not widely noticed, presence on radio and television.
There were ’50s sitcoms, a 1954 talk show and even a role in the 1962 film “Advise and Consent.” She’d pop up on game shows occasionally, particularly “Password,” hosted by her third husband, Allen Ludden.
“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.”
But starting with her performance as acerbic kitchen diva Sue Ann Nivens on the 1970s sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” — beginning when she was 51 — White developed a knack for portraying the apparently pure-hearted elder, full of Midwestern sincerity, who had a randy inner life. In doing so, she created a new generation of fans, a base that only grew larger as she entered her 90s.
She was the sexually experienced, if otherwise naïve, Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.”
White also played a flinty and sometimes violent secretary on “Boston Legal.” She had a guest spot on “The Simpsons,” hosted “Saturday Night Live” — the oldest person ever to do so — and even appeared in a self-mocking ad for Snickers candy bars.
Through it all, she took her success — if not her work — lightly.
”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.