Tributes paid to iconic actor Betty White, who has died aged 99

The trailblazing 'Golden Girls' actor has died just a few weeks before she was due to celebrate her 100th birthday

Betty White, the trailblazing actor and beloved entertainment personality, has died at the age of 99.

Her death was reported by TMZ, who said law enforcement sources informed them that White had died today (December 31) at her home in Brentwood, California. Her death is believed to be of natural causes.

LAPD spokesman Mike Lopez told the New York Post that officers responded to a radio call this morning at about 9:30am concerning “a natural death investigation” at the actor’s home.

Her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas later confirmed the news to People magazine.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Witjas said in a statement. “I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much.”

Witjas added: “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, who is probably best known for her role as Rose Nylund in US TV sitcom The Golden Girls, was gearing up to celebrate her 100th birthday in just a few weeks, on January 17.

The eight-time Emmy winner held the record for the longest TV career of any entertainer – making her debut in 1939 when the medium was just an experiment and going on to appear as an actor, host and highly sought after guest well into her 90s.

Betty White
Betty White. CREDIT: Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White, an only child, moved with her parents, Horace White, an electrical engineer, and homemaker Tess Curts White, to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, a few years after her birth.

Her first TV gig came at 17, just a month after graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1939 – singing ‘The Merry Widow’ on an experimental local channel. This appearance came months before the medium was introduced to the masses at the New York World’s Fair.

White took a break from TV during World War II, working in the American Women’s Voluntary Services and briefly marrying a fighter pilot named Dick Barker, but returned to the small screen in the late 1940s with a few small parts on a local station.

Her first big role was as a co-host on daytime talk-show Hollywood On Television, where she filled five and a half hours of air time, six days a week with celebrity interviews, skits and live commercials.

In 1952, White co-created and starred in a Saturday-night sitcom called Life With Elizabeth – becoming one of TV’s rare female producers and earning her first Emmy nomination.

She continued to pioneer both in front and behind the camera with the short-lived NBC talk show The Betty White Show in 1954. A few southern US stations threatened to take the show off air because it included Black tap dancer Arthur Duncan in the cast, but White famously told them to “live with it”.

She went on to become a regular guest on TV game shows during the 1960s – where she met her third and final husband, Password host Allen Ludden, who she married to until his death in 1981.

However, White will be best remembered for her scene-stealing roles in two pioneering sitcoms – as a relentlessly man-hungry cooking show host Sue Ann Nivens on the The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s and sweet-natured simpleton Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls in the ’80s.

Several other short-lived sitcoms followed in the late ’90s, but probably her greatest role came in her twilight years, embracing a larger-than-life version of herself on various talk and game shows. From here, she became a cultural icon just being herself. She guest starred on everything from 30 Rock and Community to Noddy and The Bold And The Beautiful.

White continued to work in television, starring in TV films and shows. She took on the role of Elka Ostrovsky in Hot In Cleveland in 2010. The show starred Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick as three best friends from LA who land in Cleveland after attempting to fly to Paris.

White played the caretaker of the home the three friends live in. The arrival of the three women reignited the character’s life again and thrust her back into the world of dating at 80 years old. Prior to that, in 2009, White starred in The Proposal alongside Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

In 2010, White’s fans began a Facebook campaign called “Betty White to Host SNL (Please)”. After almost half-a-million people signed up, she soon became the oldest person to ever host the famous late night sketch show at 88 and won her seventh Emmy for the performance.

White was nominated three times for the Screen Actors Guild Award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series in 2011, 2012 and 2013. She won the first two times. Throughout her long career, she was nominated for 21 Primetime Emmys, with five total wins.

A number of people from the world of entertainment have taken to social media to pay tribute to White.

On Twitter, Dionne Warwick wrote: “Another brilliant talent has made her transition. I had the pleasure of getting to know Betty White and shared a few giggles with her. May she rest in well-earned peace.”

“Our national treasure, Betty White, has passed just before her 100th birthday,” Star Trek actor George Takei said. “Our Sue Ann Nivens, our beloved Rose Nylund, has joined the heavens to delight the stars with her inimitable style, humor, and charm. A great loss to us all. We shall miss her dearly.”

Seth Meyers added: “RIP Betty White, the only SNL host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party. A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed til the bitter end.”

Ryan Reynolds shared a touching tribute, writing: “The world looks different now. She was great at defying expectation. She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret.”

Ryan Seacrest, who received news of White’s death while preparing to host Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in New York’s Times Square, wrote: “All of us in Times Square and around the world are grieving the loss of Betty White. She was a TV pioneer who paved the way for so many people. Beyond that, she showed us what you can accomplish in a lifetime through kindness and humor. Rest in peace to a true American icon.”

“RIP Betty White! Man did I think you would live forever. You blew a huge hole in this world that will inspire generations. Rest in glorious peace….you’ve earned your wings,” said Viola Davis.

YouTube personality Jack “CouRage” Dunlop added: “Betty White was everyone’s grandma. What a brilliant career and life. Rest In Peace.”

US president Joe Biden also shared a tribute, writing: “Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She’s a cultural icon who will be sorely missed. Jill and I are thinking of her family and all those who loved her this New Year’s Eve.”

You can see more tributes to White below:

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