Beloved Icon Betty White Has Died Just Weeks Before Her 100th Birthday

The TV legend's eight-decade career included roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland.

Betty White, the beloved television icon whose career spanned eight decades, died Dec. 31 just weeks before she was to turn 100.

Her agent, Jeff Witjas, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement to People, he confirmed her death.

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever," Witjas said. "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."

Los Angeles authorities confirmed that officers responded to her address for what was believed to be a "natural cause of death," but did not provide further details. Fire officials said they responded to a "medical aid request" and confirmed the death of a 99-year-old woman.

White was best known for her role as naive St. Olaf, Minnesota, native Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and earned White an Emmy Award and six nominations. Earlier this week, White told People that she felt "so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age."

My 100th birthday… I cannot believe it is coming up, and People Magazine is celebrating with me! The new issue of @people is available on newsstands nationwide tomorrow. https://t.co/kTQnsbMDGK

Twitter: @BettyMWhite

While her part on the endlessly rerun series may have gotten her the most name recognition, White's career began long before The Golden Girls and went on for decades after.

Her first TV appearance was in 1939, a few months after her high school graduation. She began working in radio in the 1940s before getting her first regular TV gig on the variety show Hollywood on Television in 1949. In 1951, she was nominated for an Emmy in the Best Actress on Television category, the very first time the award was given (it went to Gertrude Berg).

White worked steadily through the ’60s and ’70s, with memorable appearances on game shows like What's My Line?, Match Game, and Password. She married Password host Allen Ludden in 1963, and they remained together until his death in 1981. ("I had the love of my life," White told Anderson Cooper in 2011. "If you've had the best, who needs the rest?")

In 1973, White began her stint as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She proved adept at capturing the contrast between Nivens' sweet on-air persona as "the Happy Homemaker" and her sarcastic, sexually voracious real-life demeanor. She won two Emmys for her performance.

After The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977, White continued to take on guest and recurring TV roles. In 1983, she became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host (for the NBC series Just Men!). Two years later, she landed her career-defining part on The Golden Girls. White was originally considered for the role of Blanche, but director Jay Sandrich believed she should do something different after playing man-hungry so memorably on Mary Tyler Moore.

Three Golden Girls sitting on a couch and the fourth smiling and leaning on the back of the couch

For the rest of her career, White would continue to take on roles where she played up the surprising dirty side behind her sweet exterior.

While she continued acting after the cancellation of The Golden Girls in 1992 — and its ill-fated spinoff, The Golden Palace, in 1993 — her major resurgence didn't begin until the late 2000s, thanks to her role in the 2009 romantic comedy The Proposal and a 2010 grassroots campaign that propelled White into hosting Saturday Night Live. At age 88, she became the oldest person to host the show. That same year, White joined the cast of TV Land's Hot in Cleveland. Her character, Elka Ostrovsky, was written just for the pilot, but White's performance had her upgraded to a regular for all six seasons of the series.

Outside of acting, White was a devoted animal rights advocate, working for decades with organizations such as the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo Commission. She was awarded the American Veterinary Medical Association's Humane Award in 1987.

Beyond her charity work, White was a symbol of making the most out of one's later years: She enjoyed the most popularity and acclaim at an age when most people are long retired. When she was awarded the Guinness World Record for longest TV career for a female entertainer, White said, "I have no regrets at all. None. I consider myself to be the luckiest old broad on two feet."

News of White's death sparked an outpouring of grief and remembrances on social media. Former SNL cast member Seth Meyers said the Golden Girl was the only celebrity host he saw get a standing ovation at the show's afterparty. "A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed til the bitter end," Meyers tweeted.

Ryan Reynolds, who starred alongside White in The Proposal, said on Instagram, "The world looks a little different now" without his grandma Annie.

"She was great at defying expectation," Reynolds wrote. "She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret."

In a statement, their costar Sandra Bullock said she would do as White did.

"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 okay being sad," Bullock said. "I’ll have to buy some rose-colored glasses because Betty was that for all of us."

Rest in peace, sweet Betty. My God, how bright heaven must be right now.

Twitter: @Wolfiesmom

Our national treasure, Betty White, has passed just before her 100th birthday. Our Sue Ann Nivens, our beloved Rose Nylund, has joined the heavens to delight the stars with her inimitable style, humor, and charm. A great loss to us all. We shall miss her dearly.

Twitter: @GeorgeTakei

Jamie Lee Curtis remembered her You Again costar as "full of love and creativity and integrity and humor and dedication and a life of service to animals" in an Instagram post.

"What women WANT is to live a life like Betty White," Curtis wrote. "Rest easy you beautiful woman. We will carry on for you!"

Kathy Griffin shared a touching tribute in a Twitter thread, talking about the times she spent with White while on set.

"She treated me like we were in the same club or something. She actually treated me like an equal in the comedy gurrrl world," Griffin wrote. "She was as sharp and funny as she was soft and wise and no matter how long this world continues to spin, there will be only one Betty White."

Another brilliant talent has made her transition. I had the pleasure of getting to know Betty White and shared a few giggles with her. May she rest in well-earned peace. ❤️

Twitter: @dionnewarwick

Betty White : I is very hard to absorb you are not here anymore.. But the memories of your deLIGHT are ..Thank you for yur humor , your warmth and your activism .. Rest now and say Hi to Bill

Twitter: @hwinkler4real

Mitchell Hurwitz, a TV writer and producer who worked on The Golden Girls, remembered White for her quick wit.

"She was such an incredibly special person, so funny, so warm - and so strong," Hurwtiz tweeted. "And I have a feeling she lied about her age and actually made it to 100."

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