Report: Actress, comedian Betty White dead at 99

Report: Actress, comedian Betty White dead at 99
Actress Betty White poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on June 9, 2010. White will turn 99 on Sunday, Jan. 17. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

Actress and comedian Betty White has died at age 99 at her home on Friday, according to multiple reports.

The Emmy Award-winning actress, who was born in 1922, would have turned 100 on January 17.

White’s death was confirmed by her longtime agent Jeff Witjas in a phone call Friday with publicist Pam Golum. White would have turned 100 on Jan. 17, 2022.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas told People on Friday.

Her combination of sweet and edgy gave life to a roster of quirky characters in notable roles, including Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls and Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She continued to work in television in the 2000s with roles on The Bold and the Beautiful, Boston Legal and later on Hot in Cleveland.

White won numerous awards for her television work, including five Primetime Emmys and two Daytime Emmys — one of which was a lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys.

She was also a pioneer in television by co-founding a production company and serving as a co-creator, producer and star of the 1950s sitcom Life With Elizabeth.

White remained youthful in part through her skill at playing bawdy or naughty while radiating niceness. Her movie roles in the horror spoof Lake Placid and the comedy The Proposal were marked by her characters’ surprisingly salty language.

But she almost wasn’t cast as “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973. She and her husband, Allen Ludden, were close friends of Moore and Moore’s then-husband, producer Grant Tinker. It was feared that if White failed on the show, which already was a huge hit, it would be embarrassing for all four.

But CBS casting head Ethel Winant declared White the logical choice. Originally planned as a one-shot appearance, the role of Sue Ann lasted until Moore ended the series in 1977.

“While she’s icky-sweet on her cooking show, Sue is really a piranha type,” White once said. The role brought her two Emmys as supporting actress in a comedy series.

White made frequent appearances on game shows, late-night talk shows and in commercials over the course of her lauded career; in 2010, the then-88-year-old became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live following a social media campaign to get her on the show.

White said her longevity was a result of good health, good fortune and loving her work.

“It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and that you are still putting up with me,” White said in an appearance at the 2018 Emmy Awards, where she was honoured for her long career.

“It’s incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.”

In 1985, White starred on NBC with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty in The Golden Girls. Its cast of mature actresses, playing single women in Miami retirement, presented a gamble in a youth-conscious industry. But it proved a solid hit and lasted until 1992.

White played Rose, a gentle, dim widow who managed to misinterpret most situations. She drove her roommates crazy with off-the-wall tales of childhood in fictional St. Olaf, Minn., an off-kilter version of Lake Wobegon.

The role won her another Emmy, and she reprised it in a short-lived spinoff, The Golden Palace.

After her co-star Arthur died in 2009, White told Entertainment Tonight: “She showed me how to be very brave in playing comedy. I’ll miss that courage.”

White began her television career as $50-a-week sidekick to a local Los Angeles TV personality in 1949. She was hired for a local daytime show starring Al Jarvis, the best-known disc jockey in Los Angeles.

It was then she got a tip to start lying about her age.

“We are so age-conscious in this country,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “It’s silly, but that’s the way we are. So I was told, ‘Knock four years off right now. You’ll be blessing yourself down the road.’

“I was born in 1922. So I thought, ‘I must always remember that I was born in 1926.’ But then I would have to do the math.

“Finally, I decided to heck with it.”

The Associated PressThe Associated Press

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