First Lady of Television Betty White died on Friday morning, December 31, 2021, at the age of 99, according to TMZ. This Emmy-winning actress was a staple of TV and movies for nearly 70 years. Here’s what you need to know about the late comedian’s life.
1. White Was an Only Child
Born on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, Betty Marion White was the only child of Horace and Tess White. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mother was a homemaker, according to her A&E biography. At the age of 2, the family moved to Los Angeles. In a 2012 interview with Momtastic, White credited her parents with fostering her love of comedy and also giving her a positive outlook on life.
“I was an only child with the best mother. I did a magnificent job of choosing a mother and father. And there wasn’t a straight man in the house. I mean that in a nice way,” said White.
She added, “We would have Sunday morning breakfast together or we’d have dinner together every night around the table, and my dad would always ask me how things were at school and somehow, we’d get into silliness and fun. And we also would talk very seriously. It wasn’t all giggle time. But, I think those dinner tables and those breakfast tables went a long way on teaching me how to appreciate the positives as opposed to the negatives.”
2. She Was One of the First Women Producers in Hollywood
Fans are probably familiar with her acting, but White was also a groundbreaking figure behind the camera as well. In the early 1950s, she became one of first female producers in Hollywood when she co-created the show Life with Elizabeth alongside George Tibbles.
“I had a staff of one: writer George Tibbles,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in January 2010. “He wrote and I produced; I was one of the first women producers in Hollywood.”
In the same interview, she said one of the best lessons she ever learned in show business was to remember that it’s not about you.
“It’s not about you, it’s about everyone. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Come to the set prepared and don’t act like you know more than anyone else or you’re more important than anyone else in the production,” said White.
3. White Won 5 Emmy Awards
Over the course of her illustrious career, White starred on some of the most iconic TV comedies of all time — The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland. She also guest-starred on a plethora of other shows, including The John Larroquette Show, Suddenly Susan, Yes, Dear, The Practice, Ally McBeal, My Name is Earl, and Saturday Night Live, and hosted her own reality show in Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.
Over the course of all of those shows, she was nominated for 21 Primetime Emmy Awards for either Guest Actress, Supporting Actress, Lead Actress or TV Host, winning five times — in 1976, 1977, 1986, 1996, and 2010. She also won a regional Emmy in 1952 for Life with Elizabeth.
In a 2010 interview with Emmy TV Legends, she said of her wins, “Talk about a thrill. My first Emmy was in 1952, so I waited 22 years for the next one. When they announced my name that night and Ed Asner presented it to me, oh, I was a mess. I was so excited and so happy and so grateful … it really did turn my career completely around.”
White was referring to the fact that between Life with Elizabeth and the Mary Tyler Moore show, she became known more for game shows and talk shows. Landing the role of Sue Ann Nivens was what got White back into acting, so winning an Emmy for the role (twice) was quite the career booster for her.
In addition to her TV acclaim, White also had hilarious turns in the films Lake Placid, Bringing Down the House, The Proposal, and You Again.
4. White is Famous for Her Love of Animals
In addition to her work all over the television landscape, White is a renowned philanthropist, most notably for her work with animal rescues and charities. In her interview with Momstastic, she actually said her animal charity work is what she is the happiest about over her career.
“I’ve worked with the Morris Animal Foundation for over 50 years, I’ve worked with the Los Angeles Zoo for over 50 years … My mother and father were just as big animal nuts as I. And I thank God they passed it along to me because that’s a big part of my life,” said White, adding that she helped get the Morris Foundation studying pain alleviation in animals.
White also joked to The Hollywood Reporter that the reason she keeps acting is so that she can afford to keep helping animals.
“I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work! I’ve been involved with both the Morris Animal Foundation and the L.A. Zoo for 42 years. I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals. I couldn’t ask for more,” said White.
5. White Lost Her Husband in 1981
White was married three times in her life. The first two were brief — she was married to Air Force pilot Dick Barker from 1945 to 1946, then she was married to Hollywood agent Lane Allen from 1947 to 1949.
But White met the love of her life in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on the game show Password. Allen Ludden was the host and in 1963, they were married. Ludden died of stomach cancer in 1981 and White never remarried, telling the Daily Mail in 2011 that she had already found the best.
“Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?” she said. “I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him.”
She also said it was her choice not to have children because she didn’t want to have to choose between children and work.
“It was a choice, and I chose not to have children,” said White. “So many girls have proven it can be done, but I know that if I had children, I wouldn’t go to work. It would have to be one or the other.”