Betty White, a television star for seven decades best-remembered for her Emmy winning roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls,” died Friday at age 99, 17 days before what would have been her 100th birthday.
White died in her Brentwood home in the 500 block of North Carmelina Avenue, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. A death investigation unit responded to the home around 9:30 a.m. and reported that she died of natural causes.
White’s agent and close friend Jeff Witjas confirmed her death to Variety, saying in a statement, “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.”
In response to a question after leaving a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware where he ate lunch, President Joe Biden said, “That’s a shame. She was a lovely lady.”
First lady Jill Biden added, “Who didn’t love Betty White? We’re so sad.”
White’s career began shortly after graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1939 and continued through supplying a voice for the animated comedy “Trouble,” which was made in 2019 but not released until this year. White was an early star of local and network television, won five Primetime Emmys and was selected to the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
Born Jan. 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Ill., just outside Chicago, Betty Marion White moved with her family to Southern California as a child. For a time, she lived at the northwest corner of Cahuenga Boulevard and Fountain Avenue, four blocks north of the Ren-Mar Studios (now Red Studios Hollywood) where “The Golden Girls” was taped.
White made her first television appearance in 1939, singing songs from “The Merry Widow” with Harry Bennett on an experimental Los Angeles station. In the 1950s, she co-hosted “The Al Jarvis Show” on what is now KCOP-TV Channel 13.
“It ran 5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week,” White said in a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “When you went in the morning, you never knew what the day would hold.”
White and Jarvis would fill the time with singing, interviews, live commercials (the record for a day was 58) and comedy sketches, “which we would make up as we went along.”
One sketch that attracted a following was “Alvin and Elizabeth,” a look at a young married couple. It was transformed into a nationally syndicated situation comedy, “Life With Elizabeth,” which ran from 1953-55.
Another situation comedy, “Date with the Angels” ran on ABC in 1957 and 1958. A short-lived comedy variety show, “The Betty White Show,” followed later in 1958 on the same network.
White made regular appearances and was the occasional guest host of “The Tonight Show” from 1958-62 when it was hosted by Jack Paar. During the 1960s, White was a frequently seen series guest star, a parade host and game-show panelist, notably on “Password,” which was hosted by Ludden, her husband who died in 1981.
White won the first of her five Primetime Emmys in 1975 for outstanding continuing performance by a supporting actress in a comedy series for her portrayal of household hints show host Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” She won again in the category the following year.
White received the outstanding lead actress in a comedy series Emmy in 1986 for her portrayal of the sweet and naive Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” White won the first of her two outstanding guest actress for a comedy series Emmys in 1996 for playing an exaggerated version of herself on “The John Larroquette Show.”
White won the second in 2010 for hosting “Saturday Night Live,” the oldest person to host the NBC sketch comedy series.
“RIP Betty White, the only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed til the bitter end,” Seth Myers, who was a “Saturday Night Live” cast member when White hosted, tweeted Friday.
White also received an outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series Emmy nomination in 2011 for her work on “Hot In Cleveland.” She received outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program Emmy nominations in 2012, 2013 and 2014 for the hidden camera series, “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”
In 1983, White became the first woman to win the Daytime Emmy Awards’ outstanding game show host Emmy for “Just Men!” Only one other woman has won the award, Meredith Vieira, who won in 2005 and 2009 for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Most of White’s film appearances came from 1998-2012, including “Lake Placid,” “The Story of Us,” “Bringing Down the House” and “You Again.”
Fellow TV icon Bob Newhart said he felt a special connection to White.
“I had the honor of working with Betty on the series `Bob’ and the finale of `Hot In Cleveland.’ Betty was a regular on Jack Paar’s late night show and in 1960 she was there when I did my first stand up on national television,” Newhart, 92, said in a statement Friday. “Betty practically invented television and was a total pro. We lost a giant one today.”
Another nonagenarian TV star, 90-year-old William Shatner, tweeted: “Saddened to hear that @BettyMWhite has passed. I loved her comedic wit and endearing charm. She definitely was a sweetheart to the world and a gift to the entertainment world.”
Comedic actress Debra Messing tweeted: “Betty White. Oh noooooooo. I grew up watching and being delighted by her. She was playful and daring and smart. We all knew this day would come but it doesn’t take away the feeling of loss. A national treasure, indeed. Fly with the Angels.”
Movie stars paid tribute as well.
“The world looks different now,” Ryan Reynolds, who portrayed the grandson of White’s character in the 2009 romantic comedy, “The Proposal,” tweeted Friday. “She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret.”
A documentary on White’s life, “Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration,” is set to be released in theaters Jan. 17, the 100th anniversary of her birth.
White is on the cover of the latest edition of People Magazine, which hit newsstands Wednesday. The magazine quoted White on her key to staying upbeat, as being “born a cockeyed optimist.” She added, “I got it from my mom, and that never changed … I always find the positive.”
White was also an animal welfare advocate, who was a member of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association’s Board of Trustees and Board of Zoo Commissioners and worked with the Morris Animal Foundation, African Wildlife Foundation and Actors & Others for Animals.
“We are incredibly saddened to hear about Betty’s passing this morning and want to offer our deepest condolences to her family and friends as we collectively mourn the loss of a true legend, on and off the screen,” said Tom Jacobson, president of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. “Her work with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association spans more than five decades, and we are grateful for her enduring friendship, lifelong advocacy for animals, and tireless dedication to supporting our mission.”
In 2006, White was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as Los Angeles’ “Ambassador to the Animals” for her lifelong work for animal welfare.
“Betty White Ludden’s legacy will have a lasting impact on all of us here at the Los Angeles Zoo,” said Denise Verret, CEO and director of the Los Angeles Zoo. “She was a long-time champion and friend of the L.A. Zoo who advocated for us and helped to amplify the work we are doing to conserve wildlife. She cared deeply for all living creatures — including us. Her loss leaves a great hole in our hearts. The L.A. Zoo cannot thank Betty enough for her decades of support, and we share in this grief with all of you. There truly will never be another person like her.”
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles issued a statement Friday afternoon, calling White “a friend to animals” who “worked closely with spcaLA to promote their humane treatment since the 1940s.”
“Betty and I would joke that she would outlive us all,” spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein said in the statement. “She was inspired to lend her celebrity to provide a voice for animals, and brought much attention to the cause of animal welfare. We will miss our Friend for Life.”
White participated in spcaLA telethons which raised money for programs and services, voiced public service announcements and fundraised to build the spcaLA P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village & Education Center in Long Beach, which has provided adoption and enrichment services for thousands of homeless animals since it opened in 2001, Bernstein said.
“Ms. White’s legacy will continue in spcaLA’s work to fulfill its mission of preventing cruelty to animals through intervention, law enforcement, education and advocacy,” the statement said.
Flowers were placed on White’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6747 Hollywood Blvd., on Friday afternoon. White was among the 1,558 star recipients when the Hollywood Walk of Fame was completed in 1961. Her star is beside Ludden’s.