Betty White, Screen Legend, Has Died

Betty White has passed away.

By Michileen Martin | Published

betty white

TMZ delivered heartbreaking news on Friday, New Year’s Eve. Betty White — screen legend, trailblazer, Golden Girls star and cultural icon — has died. According to TMZ, the actress was found dead at her home. She was 99 years old; just a little over two weeks shy of her 100th birthday.

To many, Betty White was best known for her role on the hit sitcom The Golden Girls. White’s character Rose Nylund wasn’t exactly the brightest of the bunch, but she certainly was the sweetest. The actress won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Season 1 of The Golden Girls, and continued to be nominated for that same award every year the sitcom was on the air. After the series ended, White reprised the role for the sequel series The Golden Palace in which Nylund joins Rue McClanahan’s Blanche and Estelle Getty’s Sophia in opening a hotel. Unfortunately, the series never caught on like the original.

But while it’s understandable that The Golden Girls might be your signature memory of Betty White, the actress’ career stretches far back to the beginnings of television. By 1952, she’d gathered enough clout to star in and produce Life with Elizabeth. The ’70s proved another huge milestone for her career, when she gained new popularity in one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

As important as The Golden Girls is to our memory of Betty White, it was even more important to her and — to hear her talk about it — to the her colleagues on the series as well. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2005, White said that when the landmark sitcom came to the end, she and her fellow actresses knew exactly what they were losing. She said the series was “the peak” of all the careers involved. White recalled: “With The Golden Girls, it wasn’t so much sadness [at the end] as it was a deep realization that none of us would ever be a part of something so special again in our careers.”

betty white golden girls

While Betty White may have felt a deep loss with the ending of The Golden Girls, she didn’t let it slow her down. After the sitcom ended, she landed popular and recurring parts on hit series like That ’70s Show, The Practice and Boston Legal. And, of course, who could forget her turn as the monster-feeding Delores Bickerman in 1999’s Lake Placid?

The 21st century found Betty White undeterred by age. In the early 2010s, White ascended from beloved actress to pop culture icon. It wasn’t a movie or a new TV series that catapulted her public image, but a Snickers ad that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl. White plays a hungry guy playing football with his buddies who needs a recharge to “stop playing like Betty White out there.” The buzz from the hilarious ad helped fuel a grassroots Facebook campaign to make White the oldest host on record for Saturday Night Live.  

Just last week, Betty White was inviting fans to celebrate her 100th birthday — Monday, January 17 — by seeing her new movie 100 Years Young. The documentary will chronicle her life and include appearances by names like Ryan Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Kimmel, Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Lin Manuel-Miranda, and more. At the very least, the film’s release is sure to accompany a deep feeling of bittersweetness in Betty White fans all over the world.