Television Icon Betty White Has Died at 99

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever."

Beloved television star Betty White passed away earlier today (December 31) at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99.

White’s death was first reported by TMZ. Jeff Witjas, White’s longtime agent and close friend, soon confirmed the sad news in a statement to People. The prolific actress was just weeks away from turning 100 on January 17, 2022.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas told the magazine. “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 started her entertainment career in radio back in the 1940s. When television emerged as the dominant medium, she made the leap to the small screen, starring in the 1952 sitcom Life With Elizabeth.

Throughout the ’60s, she was a regular on game shows like The $10,000 Pyramid, Match Game, and Password, which was hosted by her late husband, the aforementioned Allen Ludden. The two married in 1963 and remained together until his death in 1981. (Asked by Larry King why she never remarried, White famously replied, “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”)

In 1973, White joined the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore show as sex-crazed “Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens and earned two Emmys for the role. But it was her next major part that immortalized White as a gay icon: the naïve but lovable Rose Nyland on The Golden Girls. She starred on all seven seasons and joined costars Rue McClahan and Estelle Getty on its short-lived spinoff, Golden Palace.

Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank
White (far left) with her Golden Girls costars.

The Golden Girls was a hit in its day, but it was later rediscovered in reruns by gay fans, who loved the camaraderie of these four women and their chosen family. They were vibrant and sexually active and chose what was right over what was conventional. And while they’d throw shade at each other like veteran queens, the fierce Miami foursome always made up over cheesecake.

It was almost two decades before White returned to series television, playing ornery caretaker Elka Ostrovsky on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, which debuted in 2010. That same year, after an online campaign went viral, she hosted Saturday Night Live for the very first time at age 88.

White went on to earn another Emmy, this time for Outstanding Guest Actress. Over the course of her career, she won eight Emmys, three SAG Awards, and a Grammy for the audio version of her memoir, If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t).

Aside from acting, White was devoted to animal rights, working with the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo for more than 50 years. “I’m the luckiest person in the world. My life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business,” she told TV Guide in 2009. “They’re the two things I love the most and I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal work!”

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
White as Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

White was also a vocal friend to the LGBTQ+ community and spoke out in support of marriage equality all the way back in 2010.

“I don’t care who anybody sleeps with,” she told Parade. “If a couple has been together all that time — and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones — I think it’s fine if they want to get married.”

“Mind your own business,” she added, “take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”

In 2013, White earned the title of Longest TV Career by a Female Entertainer from Guinness World Records for, at that time, her 74 years in show business. She topped her own previous record in 2018.

Thank you for being a friend, Betty. Rest in paradise.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."