Betty White: The Passing of a True American Icon


Betty White passed away at the age of 99 on December 31, 2021 (courtesy of Flickr). 

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” said Jeff Witjas, Betty White’s agent and close friend. Betty White died on Dec. 31, 2021 at age 99, less than a month before her 100th birthday on Jan. 17. With her death, White leaves behind an impressive comedic acting career in addition to her historical legacy.

Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1922 as an only child to Horrace and Tess White, moving to Los Angeles when she was two years old. She had aspirations ranging from opera singing to being a park ranger before deciding on acting and writing. White’s time in the spotlight started with her lead role in her high school’s senior play, which, almost prophetically, she also wrote. Choosing not to attend college, White made her media debut on various radio shows in the 1940s before breaking into the television scene. In 1949, White appeared on “Hollywood on Television” as girl Friday until she was later promoted to host of the show. In 1952, she founded Bandy Productions to create her own productions, one of which being the series “Life with Elizabeth.” White not only produced the series, but starred in it as well. 

Arguably, White is best known for her roles in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls.” In “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” White played the role of Sue Ann Nivens beginning in 1973. The series ended in 1977, which is when White began starring in “The Betty White Show.” However, once the iconic series “The Golden Girls” debuted in 1985, White soon became known as Rose Nylund. The actress also appeared in other major programs around the time, including “The Love Boat,” “That ’70s Show” and “Boston Legal.”

In 1995, White was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Ray Richmond, author of “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life,” explained that “she and TV were pretty much born for each other,” primarily because “her association with TV began just as it was becoming relevant, and she helped to give it form and style when the medium was still in its infancy.” 

Nonetheless, White’s talent transcended television. She made appearances on multiple game shows, including “Password,” which was hosted by White’s future husband Allen Ludden. From appearing in Super Bowl commercials to hosting “Saturday Night Live,”  White became nothing short of a pop culture icon. Later in her career, she made appearances in the movies “Lake Placid,” “The Proposal,” “Toy Story 4” and “You Again.” Her time on the screen earned her a plethora of awards, including eight Emmys, 21 Emmy nominations, three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Grammy. In addition, she was honored at the Emmy Awards in 2018 to commemorate her eighty years in show business. 

Despite the magnitude of her groundbreaking comedic career, White became influential in her other endeavors as well — most significantly in her work and philanthropy regarding animal rights advocacy. She was a prominent trustee with the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, a nonprofit that she worked with in order to advocate for better conditions for the animals housed at the zoo. White served on the zoo board for over 50 years, advancing and improving the zoo’s exhibits and habitats tremendously. Additionally, she was involved with the Morris Animal Foundation for an equally extensive amount of time, contributing financially to their various animal health studies. 

In many ways, White will live forever. She will undoubtedly be remembered for her iconic television and pop culture presence as well as being a trailblazer for women in the entertainment industry. She will be remembered as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and as Rose Nylund from “The Golden Girls.” She will be remembered as an advocate for animal rights, and more broadly as a kind-hearted, high-spirited voice for the voiceless. Most importantly, she will be remembered for who she was: a wholesome, witty woman dedicated to making the world a better place. 

99 years is a long time, but with her contagious sense of humor and extraordinary perseverance, Betty White managed to make her legacy infinite.