Betty White, Hollywood legend and gay icon, dies aged 99

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  • Betty White
    Betty White
    American actress and comedian (1922–2021)
  • Allen Ludden
    American television personality, actor, emcee and game show host (1917-1981)

The incomparable Betty White has died aged 99.

TMZ broke the news that Betty White died at home on Friday morning (31 December).

She was just a few weeks away from her 100th birthday, which she would have celebrated on 17 January, and was vibrant and energetic right to the end.

“I’m so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age,” Betty White told People magazine in an interview published just this week. “It’s amazing.”

White’s agent and close friend Jeff Witjas confirmed the sad news to People.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” he said. “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.”

Betty White. (Getty)
Betty White. (Getty)

The star of The Golden Girls, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hot In Cleveland and countless other TV shows and films, Betty White’s career spanned nine decades.

She was revered in Hollywood and around the world for her sharp wit and warmth, and was passionate about human and animal rights.

In 2010 she came out in support of LGBT+ rights and equal marriage, telling Parade magazine: “I don’t care who anybody sleeps with. If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married.

“I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”

She joked: “Gays love old ladies.”

Betty White’s career spanned nine decades

Born in 1922, Betty White began her entertainment career in 1930, aged eight, when she played an orphan in a radio drama. She made her first appearance on television in 1939, just after she graduated from high school, but her big break came a decade later in 1949, with her first sitcom Life with Elizabeth, which she also produced.

“I was one of the first women producers in Hollywood,” White once told The Hollywood Reporter.

Shortly before the show began, White had divorced her second husband, Hollywood talent Lane Allen, who pressured her to give up her career (she was previously married to WWII pilot Dick Barker). In 1961, she met the love of her life, Allen Ludden, when she appeared on his game show Password as a celebrity guest. They married in 1963.

Betty White, 41, and Allen Ludden, 45, following their wedding at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty).
Betty White, 41, and Allen Ludden, 45, following their wedding at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty).

She was widowed in 1981, when Ludden died of stomach cancer. In 2011, she said: “I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him.”

When asked if she would remarry, she said: “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”

Throughout the 70s, White had starred in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. When it ended, in 1977, she was offered her own vehicle, The Betty White Show, which lasted a single season.

Her defining role came in 1985, when she joined new sitcom The Golden Girls as Rose Nylund. It won White the Emmy for Best Comedy Actress – a category she was nominated in every year the show was on air.

Golden Girls stars Betty White (1922-2021), Bea Arthur (1922-2009) Estelle Getty (1923-2008) and Rue McClanahan (1934-2010) pose for a portrait circa 1992 in Los Angeles, California. (Ron Davis/Getty)
Golden Girls stars Betty White (1922-2021), Bea Arthur (1922-2009) Estelle Getty (1923-2008) and Rue McClanahan (1934-2010) pose for a portrait circa 1992 in Los Angeles, California. (Ron Davis/Getty)

Her TV career continued after the show ended, with spin-off The Golden Palace, and appearances in shows such as Ally McBeal and That ’70s Show. The 2010s saw Betty White ride a new wave of popularity, and she landed another major TV series with Hot in Cleveland.

Right until her later years, White continued working. In 2019 she starred in Toy Story 4, and in December 2021 a major documentary was announced to mark her centennial birthday: Betty White: 100 Years Young – A Birthday Celebration.

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