LOS ANGELES (AP) — Betty White, whose saucy, up-for-anything charm made her a television mainstay for more than 60 years, whether as a man-crazy TV hostess on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or the loopy housemate on “The Golden Girls,” has died. She was 99.
White’s death was confirmed Friday by Jeff Witjas, her longtime agent and friend. She would have turned 100 on Jan. 17.
“I truly never thought she was going to pass away,” Witjas told The Associated Press. “She meant the world to me as a friend. She was the most positive person I’ve ever known.”
Witjas said White had been staying close to her Los Angeles home during the pandemic out of caution but had no diagnosed illness. It was unclear if she died Thursday night or Friday, he said.
Her death brought tributes from celebrities and politicians alike.
“We loved Betty White,” first lady Jill Biden said as she and President Joe Biden left a restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. Added the president: “Ninety-nine years old. As my mother would say, ‘God love her.’”
“She was great at defying expectation,” Ryan Reynolds, who starred alongside her in the comedy “The Proposal,” tweeted. “She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough. We’ll miss you, Betty.”
White launched her TV career in daytime talk shows when the medium was still in its infancy and endured well into the age of cable and streaming. Her combination of sweetness and edginess gave life to a roster of quirky characters in shows from the sitcom “Life With Elizabeth” in the early 1950s to oddball Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls” in the ’80s to “Boston Legal,” which ran from 2004 to 2008.
But it was in 2010 that White’s stardom erupted as never before.
In a Snickers commercial that premiered during that year’s Super Bowl telecast, she impersonated an energy-sapped dude getting tackled during a backlot football game.
“Mike, you’re playing like Betty White out there,” jeered one of his chums. White, flat on the ground and covered in mud, fired back, “That’s not what your girlfriend said!”
The instantly-viral video helped spark a Facebook campaign called “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!,” whose half-million fans led to her co-hosting “Saturday Night Live” in a much-watched, much-hailed edition that Mother’s Day weekend. The appearance won her a seventh Emmy award.
A month later, cable’s TV Land premiered “Hot In Cleveland,” the network’s first original scripted series, which starred Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick as three past-their-prime show-biz veterans who move to Cleveland to escape the youth obsession of Hollywood. They move into a home being looked after by an elderly Polish widow — a character, played by White, who was meant to appear only in the pilot episode.
But White stole the show, and the salty Elka Ostrovsky became a key part of the series, an immediate hit. She was voted the Entertainer of the Year by members of The Associated Press.
“It’s ridiculous,” White said of the honor. “They haven’t caught on to me, and I hope they never do.”
By then, White had not only become the hippest star around, but…
Read More: Betty White, TV’s Golden Girl, dies at 99