Betty White, the beloved legendary entertainer, television pioneer, and animal rights activist, who enchanted audiences over the course of an almost ninety-year career, passed away Friday morning at 99, weeks before her 100th birthday.

White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on January 17, 1922. She enjoyed massive success and became an LGBTQI icon as a result of playing loveable dimwit Rose Nyland on the long-running television sitcom, The Golden Girls. White reprised her role as Rose in the short-lived spinoff, The Golden Palace.

The Golden Girls was unapologetically progressive and had unmistakable gay sensibilities. Its cast, which also included Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty, became forever immortalised in the gay pantheon. Gay and lesbian issues were sensitively portrayed, and the show continues to be an LGBTQ cultural fixture.

Supporter of the LGBTQ Community

White spoke of her support for the LGBTQ community in an interview with Parade in 2010. “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,” she said.

“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.”

White’s work on The Golden Girls was a delightful change of pace from her indelible work as the man-hungry, Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

In 2010, White starred in the sitcom, Hot in Cleveland. While she had signed on to only appear in its pilot episode, White became a full-time cast member and stayed with the show through its entire six-year, 128-episode run.

It’s All About the Snickers

White had a remarkable career upswing following a highly publicised appearance in a Snickers commercial, which aired during the 2010 Super Bowl. A massive outpouring of fan affection, accompanied by an online poll, showed that White was a favourite to host Saturday Night Live, which she did to great acclaim. At 88 years of age, White became the oldest person ever to host the program. 

Over the course of her remarkable career, White won five Primetime Emmys and amassed 21 nominations.

White also won a Daytime Emmy, a Grammy Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. She was honoured in 2009 with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and in 2015 with the Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1952, White headlined the nationally syndicated comedy, Life With Elizabeth, and served as the show’s producer, becoming one of the first women in television to have creative control over a program.

White was also a dedicated animal rights advocate and worked with several animal welfare organisations, including the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, and served on the Board of Directors from 1974. 

“I’m the luckiest person in the world. My life is divided in absolute half: half animals, half show business,” White told TV Guide. “I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal work!”

White married game show host, Alan Ludden, whom she met while appearing on his show, Password. They married in 1963 and were together until his death in 1981. 

Wonder Woman’s Tribute to a Golden Girl 

Tributes poured in following White passing. Lynda Carter tweeted, “She was a vanguard who paved the way for women in TV. Now we say goodbye to her irrepressible presence, and like millions of others, I will miss her.” 

Ryan Reynolds, who starred in The Proposal said of his co-star, “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.”

US President Joe Biden tweeted, “Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She’s a cultural icon who will be sorely missed.”

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted, “What an exceptional life. I’m grateful for every second I got to spend with Betty White. Sending love to her family, friends and all of us.”

White’s long-time agent and friend, Jeff Witjas told People, “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she 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.”

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