'Golden Girls' actress Betty White dies aged 99

Comedic actress who was America's geriatric sweetheart was weeks shy of celebrating her 100th birthday

Comedic actress Betty White, whose career of more than 80 years turned her into America's geriatric sweetheart, has died less than three weeks shy of her 100th birthday, People magazine reported on Friday.

Her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas told the magazine: “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever.”

In a youth-driven entertainment industry where an actress over the age of 40 can often be facing the twilight of her career, White was an anomaly, becoming a star in her 60s and a pop culture phenomenon in her 80s and 90s.

White said her longevity was a result of good health, good fortune and loving her work.

“It's incredible that I'm still in this business and that you are still putting up with me,” White said in an appearance at the 2018 Emmy Awards ceremony, where she was honoured for her long career.

“It's incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.”

President Joe Biden led the many tributes to White, saying she would be "sorely missed".

She was born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, and her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression.

White started her entertainment career in radio in the late 1930s and by 1939, she made her TV debut, singing on an experimental channel in Los Angeles.

After serving in the American Women's Voluntary Service, which aided the US effort during the Second World War, she was a regular on Hollywood on Television — a daily, five-hour, live variety show — in 1949.

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It's incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you
Betty White

White reached a new level of success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing the host of a home-making television show, the snide, lusty Sue Ann Nivens, whose credo was “a woman who does a good job in the kitchen is sure to reap her rewards in other parts of the house”. White won best supporting actress Emmys for the role in 1975 and 1976.

She won another Emmy in 1986 for The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four older women living together in Miami that featured an age demographic rarely highlighted on American television.

The actress was nominated for Emmys six other times for her portrayal of the widowed Rose Nylund, a sweet, naive and ditsy Midwesterner, on the show, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and was one of the top-rated series of its time.

The Associated Press voted her entertainer of the year in 2010 and a 2011 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that White, then 89, was the most popular and trusted celebrity in America, with an 86 per cent favourable rating.

“Who would ever dream that I would not only be this healthy, but still be invited to work?” White said in a 2015 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “That's the privilege … to still have jobs to do is such a privilege.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

Updated: December 31st 2021, 10:18 PM