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Betty White (1922–2021), beloved star of “The Golden Girls”

by Linnea Crowther

Betty White was a beloved American actress who starred in “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Her early work

A television fixture once known as the First Lady of Game Shows, White was blessed with a career that just wouldn’t quit – indeed, her fame only seemed to grow as she entered her 80s and 90s. By the time of her death, she was considered a national treasure, one of the best loved and most trusted celebrities in Hollywood.

White got her start on radio, though she didn’t star on a show or even in a supporting role. She did a little of whatever was needed – creating sound effects, reading commercials, singing and more.

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After a stint in the American Women’s Voluntary Services during World War II interrupted her burgeoning career, she made the move to television, co-hosting the variety show “Hollywood on Television.” She soon took the reins to host the show herself, offering skits, interviews, songs and ad-libbed chat. She is believed to have been the first woman to host a TV talk show, and the gig brought White her first Emmy Award nomination.

A wide variety of TV successes in the 1950s and ’60s followed, from starring roles on sitcoms “Life With Elizabeth” and “Date With the Angels” to a long-running gig as commentator for NBC’s coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade to appearances on myriad game shows, including “To Tell the Truth,” “What’s My Line?” and “Password,” hosted by the man she would soon marry, Allen Ludden. After a long and devoted marriage, Ludden preceded her in death in 1981. On “Life With Elizabeth,” White was a co-producer, making history as the first woman to produce a sitcom.

Career-defining roles

As the 1970s began, White took the role that catapulted her into true stardom, Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a performance that won her two Emmys. A stint as a game show host followed – on “Just Men!” – as well as a recurring role on the sitcom “Mama’s Family.”

With the mid-’80s came the role that defined White’s later career: sweet, slightly dopey Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” Along with co-stars Bea Arthur (1922–2009), Rue McClanahan (1934–2010), and Estelle Getty (1923–2008), White helped make retirement hip as she starred on the wildly successful sitcom for seven seasons. After the show’s cancellation in 1992, White ran the guest-star circuit on a number of TV shows and had a memorable supporting role on the big screen in “Lake Placid.”

Late-life success

As the 21st century dawned, White was nearing her 80s, an age when many actors might consider retiring or at least slowing down. Instead, White began enjoying a career resurgence that made her one of the most beloved stars working. She took on recurring roles on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “Boston Legal,” made movies including “The Proposal” and “Bringing Down the House,” and became, in 2010, the oldest person ever to host “Saturday Night Live,” at 88. She began starring on a new sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” and hosted the practical joke show “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”

Activism and honors

For many years, White was a champion of animal welfare. She supported organizations including the Los Angeles Zoo, Morris Animal Foundation and African Wildlife Foundation. Among the many honors she received were a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s Humane Award and an American Comedy Awards honor for lifetime achievement. She was a Kentucky Colonel, a Disney Legend and an honorary Forest Ranger, an honor conferred on her by Smokey Bear that she cherished, as she had once dreamed of being a ranger. She won six Emmy awards, three American Comedy awards, a Grammy Award and two Viewers for Quality Television awards.

White on her decades-long career

“I have no regrets at all. None. I consider myself to be the luckiest old broad on two feet.” —from a 2013 interview with Guinness World Records

Tributes to Betty White

Full obituary: The Washington Post

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