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Betty White, the actor best known for roles in sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls, has died aged 99.
White died at her home on Friday morning, just two weeks before she would have turned 100. Her agent Jeff Witjas told People magazine: “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever.”
White enjoyed an illustrious career of over eight decades, receiving eight Emmys, one Grammy and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. Considered a television pioneer, she pushed doors open not only for herself, but many other women who dreamed of entering the broadcast industry.
Born in Oakland, Illinois, in 1922, White began her career in 1939 singing an abridged version of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow on an experimental television transmission. After the second world war, during which time she had worked with the American Women’s Voluntary Service, White found work appearing on radio shows such as The Great Gildersleeve, and provided voiceovers for radio commercials. She co-hosted the live talkshow Hollywood on Television from 1949 to 1953. “With no script to fall back on it was like walking along the edge of a cliff in a high wind – there was nothing to hang on to but your mental editor,” she recalled in her memoir Here We Go Again: My Life in Television in 1995.
After her co-host Al Jarvis resigned, White hosted solo, and is believed to have been the first female television talkshow host.
White’s talkshow The Betty White Show premiered on NBC in 1954. White also helped star and produce the television show Life With Elizabeth, at a time when domestic sitcoms were relatively new. It allowed her to become one of a handful of women who had full creative control in front of and behind the camera.
But it was her role as Sue Ann Nivens on 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show that turned White into a household name. Her role as Rose Nylund on the popular 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls cemented her status as a legendary TV actor.
Speaking to the Guardian on her enduring legacy in 2012, White remarked it was simply due to being on the television for so long: “I think after 63 years in the business people grow up with you, and they have children and then they grow up with you,” she said from her home in LA. “They think you’re a fixture, so I think they don’t know how to get rid of me, to be honest.”
White’s other TV work included the gameshow Just Men!, late night shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and the sitcom Hot in Cleveland. White also had cameos in series including 30 Rock and Community. White is survived by her three stepchildren from her marriage to Allen Ludden, who died in 1981.
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