Betty White: Tributes flow after Hollywood legend dies aged 99

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  • Betty White
    Betty White
    American actress and comedian (1922–2021)

Betty White, the Emmy-winning star of television sitcoms The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has passed away at the age of 99 just three weeks shy of her milestone 100th birthday.

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” Betty's agent and friend Jeff Witjas confirmed in a statement to People on New Year's Eve.

Betty White
Betty White - legendary American comedic actress - has died at the age of 99. Photo: Getty

“I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much," he continued, "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."

According to TMZ, the comedic actress "didn't have any sudden illness, nor was she battling any particular ailment". It is believed she died from natural causes.

Tributes flood in for Betty White

Minutes after news emerged of her death, US President Joe Biden told reporters: "That's a shame. She was a lovely lady."

His wife, Jill Biden, said: "Who didn't love Betty White? We're so sad about her death."

Ryan Reynolds, who starred alongside Betty in The Proposal wrote on Twitter: "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."

Sandra Bullock also shared a statement with Variety, saying: "I don’t drink vodka … but I will tonight, on ice, with a slice of lemon with a hot dog on the other side and just be ok being sad. I’ll have to buy some rose-colored glasses because Betty was that for all of us."

Seth Meyers took to Twitter to write: "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."

George Takei called Betty "our national treasure" describing her death as "a great loss to us all", while Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker took to Instagram to share a throwback photo of the star.

Betty White speaks onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards
Betty White speaks onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards in 2018. Photo: Getty

Betty White's career spanned 90 years

Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, and her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, where she attended Beverly Hills High School.

Betty started her entertainment career in radio in the late 1930s and by 1939 had made her TV debut singing on an experimental channel in Los Angeles. After serving in the American Women's Voluntary Service, which helped the US effort during World War II, she was a regular on Hollywood On Television, a daily five-hour live variety show, in 1949.

A few years later she became a pioneering woman in television by co-founding a production company and serving as a co-creator, producer and star of the 1950s sitcom Life With Elizabeth.

Betty 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." Betty 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.

By 2009 she was becoming ubiquitous with more frequent television appearances and a role in the Sandra Bullock film The Proposal. She starred in a popular Snickers commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, taking a brutal hit in a mud puddle in a football game.

In a youth-driven entertainment industry where an actress over 40 faces career twilight, Betty was an elderly anomaly who was a star in her 60s and a pop culture phenomenon in her 80s and 90s.

Playing on her imminent likeability, Betty was still starring in a TV sitcom, Hot In Cleveland, at age 92 until it was cancelled in late 2014.

Betty 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," Betty 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."

Betty was not afraid to mock herself and throw out a joke about her sex life or a snarky crack that one would not expect from a sweet-smiling, white-haired elderly woman. She was frequently asked if, after such a long career, there was anything she still wanted to do and the standard response was: "Robert Redford."

"Old age hasn't diminished her," the New York Times wrote in 2013.

"It has given her a second wind."

Additional reporting by AAP.

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