Betty White, the beloved comedian and star of The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has died at age 99. TMZ broke the news on Friday, just weeks before the actor was set to celebrate her 100th birthday. “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” her agent, Jeff Witjas told People shortly after, echoing a sentiment that has long been expressed over all corners of the internet. The news is particularly shocking given that earlier this week, the magazine published an issue with the cover line “Betty White Turns 100!,” in which White said that she was “so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age.” Naturally, she threw in a quip: “I try to avoid anything green,” the actor said of her secret to long life. “I think it’s working.” (White has said that she sticks to a strict regimen of “vodka and hot dogs, probably in that order.”) The cause of death remains unknown.
Born in the Chicago suburbs in 1922, White began her trailblazing career in television in 1939, pausing during World War II to volunteer for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. After the war ended, she made a number of TV appearances and hosted both her own radio show, The Betty White Show, and the live variety show Hollywood on Television. She became one of the first women in entertainment to wield creative control both in front of and behind the camera, perhaps most notably with the TV version of The Betty White Show that NBC first aired in 1954. Among White’s decisions as host and producer were to hire a female director and make Arthur Duncan, who is Black, a series regular. White repeatedly defended the latter; in fact, in response to criticism from TV stations in the South, she upped Duncan’s airtime and told them to “live with it.”
Thanks in large part to her roles as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s and Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls from 1985 to 1992, White racked up 17 Emmy Award nominations and seven Emmy Award wins over the course of her decades-long career. (Her first nomination, in 1951, marked the first time the awards featured the Best Actress category.) From there came appearances on That ‘70s Show in the early 2000s and a notable film appearance in 2009’s The Proposal opposite Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. (Both are set to appear in a film celebrating White’s 100th birthday on January 17, along with friends, admirers, and former costars such as Carol Burnett, Robert Redford, Tina Fey, Morgan Freeman, and Clint Eastwood.) Reynolds was among the first to post tributes to the late actor, and he was by no means alone. See his tribute and more from stars such as Viola Davis and Seth Meyers, here.
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