Betty White, Beloved 'Golden Girl' Actor, Dead At 99

The "Golden Girl" died on Dec. 31.
Betty White on June 20, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Betty White on June 20, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Gabriel Olsen via Getty Images

The actor Betty White died at age 99 Friday, TMZ reported.

Jeff Witjas, White’s agent and friend, confirmed her death to The Daily Beast, saying she “passed away peacefully in her home in Brentwood, California.” He told People in a statement he thought White “would live forever.”

“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,” Witjas said.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Fire Department told Rolling Stone they responded to a medical aid request Friday morning after receiving a call at 9:33 a.m.

White would have turned 100 on Jan. 17. She recently announced a documentary of her life called “Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration” would hit theaters that day.

Best known for her roles as Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” from 1985 to 1992, and Sue Ann Nivers on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” from 1973 to 1977, White had a storied career as a performer.

A consummate professional with unrivaled charm and wit, White appeared on the big and small screens, on stage and radio throughout her many decades in show business. White had work lined up right until the time of her death.

“Why should I retire from something I love so much?” she told HuffPost in a November 2013 interview. “I’m blessed with good health; I’m blessed with being invited to participate in television, so why should I say, ‘No, no, I’m retiring.’ To do what? Nothing that I could possibly find to do would be as much fun as what I do for a living.”

White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on Jan. 17, 1922, to Christine Tess and Horace Logan White. She began her career in 1930s.

After World War II, she landed her own radio program, “The Betty White Show,” before hosting on Al Jarvis’ TV show, “Hollywood on Television.” From there, she earned a sitcom of her own, “Life with Elizabeth,” based on a sketch from “Hollywood on Television.” Throughout the 1950s, she established herself as a TV personality.

White in her role as Sue Ann Nivens in a 1974 publicity portrait for the CBS comedy "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
White in her role as Sue Ann Nivens in a 1974 publicity portrait for the CBS comedy "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

White made her silver screen debut as a Kansas senator in 1962’s “Advise and Consent,” but she didn’t regularly appear in feature films until much later in life. Instead, she continued to build one of the most solid and consistent television resumes in Hollywood. Guinness World Records even awarded her the Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) in September 2013.

White’s biggest hit was playing Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” but that almost didn’t happen. White was originally cast as Blanche Devereaux, the more sexually promiscuous member of the group, but she switched roles with Rue McClanahan because of similarities between Blanche and Sue Ann Nivers, White’s character on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

In recent years, White’s career had a strong resurgence. She won two SAG Awards for her role on NBC’s comedy joke show “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” and she became the oldest person ever to host “Saturday Night Live” in 2010. (She also won an Emmy for that appearance.)

Throughout her many years of acting, White also collected five Primetime Emmy awards and two Daytime Emmy awards among countless other accolades.

White as Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls."
White as Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls."
NBC via Getty Images

In 1945, White married World War II pilot Dick Barker. They divorced two years later, and soon after she married a theater agent, Lane Allen. White has said they split because he wanted her to quit show business. She later met TV host Allen Ludden when she was a celebrity guest on his show “Password” in 1961. They married in 1963 and stayed together for 17 years until his death in 1981. White never remarried.

In addition to her comedic roles, White had a history of breaking down barriers for women in Hollywood. Because of her involvement behind the camera on “Life with Elizabeth,” she became one of the first female TV producers.

She was also a noted animal rights activist. White spent more than 40 years as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, and authored “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo” in 2011.

“It is so embedded in me,” she said of her love of animals in an interview with the Smithsonian magazine in 2012. “Both my mother and father were tremendous animal lovers. They imbued in me the fact that, to me, there isn’t an animal on the planet that I don’t find fascinating and want to learn more about.” Before White became an actor, she had wanted to work as a forest ranger or zookeeper.

But audiences were likely glad she chose a different path: White spent her life as a hilarious and welcome presence whom viewers invited into their homes for decades. “I think after 63 years in the business people grow up with you, and they have children and then they grow up with you,” she said in an interview with the Guardian in 2012. “They think you’re a fixture, so I think they don’t know how to get rid of me, to be honest.”

Jessica Goodman also contributed to this report.

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