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Betty White, Beloved Star of ‘The Golden Girls,’ Dies at 99

Actress’ career spanned eight decades

Betty White, the beloved actress best known for her roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland,” died Friday morning, according to her agent, Jeff Witjas, who issued a statement to People. She was 99 and about to celebrate her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas said in a statement on Friday. “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 excited about her birthday centennial, telling People just a few days ago, “I’m so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age. It’s amazing.”

White addressed concern from her many friends, family and fans when COVID-19 broke out. Witjas said in July that she was safe at home and doing well, telling TMZ “she’s looking forward to summer when she can safely enjoy the outdoors and regain her freedom.” He added that she was “keeping herself busy at home reading, watching TV and doing crossword puzzles” but was “severely affected” by her inability to regularly interact with friends face-to-face.”

White was best known for playing the dim-witted Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” and its spin-off “The Golden Palace.” Nylund hailed from the fictional town of St. Olaf, and often regaled her housemates about stories from her childhood. Nylund was quite naive, taking many turns of phrase literally (and earning a whack on the head from Bea Arthur’s Dorothy). White portrayed Nylund in 204 episodes of “The Golden Girls” and “The Golden Palace” from the mid-’80s to early ’90s, and guest-starred in three episodes of “Empty Nest.”

White was a pioneer throughout her career. Her television career began in 1939, performing songs on an experimental Los Angeles TV channel. In 1951, she created, wrote, and starred in “Life with Elizabeth” — unheard of then for a woman. In 1954, she produced and hosted her own daily talk/variety show, “The Betty White Show.” Her decision to include an African American cast member, Arthur Duncan, was controversial and stations in the South threatened to boycott her show. White stayed firm and refused calls to remove Duncan.

In the ’60s, White appeared on numerous game shows and would be a staple on them throughout her career (including a stint hosting “Just Men!”). In the ’70s, she found popular and critical success portraying Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The role netted her first two Primetime Emmy Awards (she would win three more — an Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Award for “The Golden Girls” in 1986, an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Award for “The John Larroquette Show” in 1996, and an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Award for “SNL” in 2010). White also won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording in 2011, and SAG honored her with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

White gained a whole new generation of fans in the 2009 Ryan Reynolds-Sandra Bullock comedy “The Proposal,” which she earned two MTV Movie Award nominations and a Teen Choice Award win in her late eighties. She would follow that with a stint on the TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”

White was also a huge animal lover and animal rights activist. Her last major television role was hosting “Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America.” She was also featured in the 2011 documentary “Betty White: Champion for Animals.”