Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage...

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. Credit: Jesse Grant

Betty White, one of the most durable and beloved stars in TV history, has died, just days shy of her 100th birthday, her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas said on Friday.

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever," Witjas told People in a statement. "I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much."

White's friends took to social media to remember the star. "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," wrote Ryan Reynolds, White's "The Proposal" co-star on Instagram.

"What an exceptional life. I’m grateful for every second I got to spend with Betty White," tweeted talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Seven-time Emmy recipient White had worked almost continuously since the end of World War II in game shows, talk shows, sitcoms, soaps and more. She achieved late-in-career renown when a Facebook campaign landed her as host of "Saturday Night Live" in 2010. When she wasn't busy being Betty White, she was writing — her other self-declared avocation — or serving the cause of animal welfare.

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage...

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. Credit: AP/Anonymous

White was nominated 76 times for major awards, including 21 Emmys. She appeared on more than 50 game shows as either contestant or host and was a regular on two classic sitcoms, "Mary Tyler Moore" (from 1973 to 1977) and "The Golden Girls" (1985-1992). Her "Happy Homemaker" character Sue Ann Nivens remains an indelible part of '70s culture, and her naive Rose Nylund in "Golden Girls" the same for '80s culture. After that Facebook campaign sought to bring her to "Saturday Night Live," she became the oldest host at age 88 in show history. Her appeal wasn't generational but multigenerational.

Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on Jan. 17, 1922, the only child of Christine Tess, a homemaker, and Horace Logan White, an electric company executive. Her family moved to the Los Angeles area during the Great Depression. There, two interests stuck: wildlife and show business. After graduating Beverly Hills High School in 1939, she sang for the brand-new technology of "television" at a local station experimenting with cameras.

After World War II, she sought movie roles, then radio ones, unsuccessfully at first. Her break came when Al Jarvis, a popular local DJ, asked her to be his sidekick on his daily show, "Al Jarvis' Make-Believe Ballroom" in 1949 where she sang popular songs.

Jarvis and White spent five hours a day ad-libbing, and when he left in 1952, others joined her, including Eddie Albert. The show eventually moved to television and was renamed "Hollywood on Television." White became a pioneer of the sort of daytime talk that would soon proliferate — light chatter that covered the news, entertainment, weather and pretty much anything that came to mind.

When one of her proteges launched his own production company, White got her own sitcom, "Life With Elizabeth," co-starring Del Moore as her husband. It was based on skits she had originated on the daytime talk series — "car is stolen," "jungle in the living room" and "Girl Scout trip" were names of various bits.

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage...

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. Credit: Getty Images/Hulton Archive

The series was so popular that it was syndicated to a national audience. In 1954, NBC aired "The Betty White Show" — another daily talk/variety series. She had full creative control and hired a Black cast member, Arthur Duncan, which faced affiliate resistance in the South. White stood by Duncan, but NBC did not stand by the show, canceling it after a year.

White, however, was just beginning. Her first game show appearance was on something called "Make the Connection," and when series or talk roles lagged in the ensuing years, she fell back on this fast-growing genre. She had an affinity for games and in time became TV's most prolific celebrity panelist. The franchise she was most closely associated with was "Match Game" — 555 episodes over the decades — in which a contestant is given a line with a missing word or words, then asked to match it with the celebrities.

Married and divorced twice by the mid-‘50s, White met her third husband —game show host Allen Ludden — on "Password." They were married from 1963 until his death in 1981.

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage...

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. Credit: AP/Craig Fujii

White, who was close friends with Mary Tyler Moore and her husband, producer Grant Tinker, joined Moore's sitcom in the fourth season after the showrunners decided to create a "Happy Homemaker" type modeled after White. "After they read 12 other gals [for the part] and couldn't find anybody sickening enough," White recalled, the casting director said, "Why not get Betty?"

Foil of a thousand jokes, none complimentary, White's Sue Ann Nivens was also a lightning rod. Criticized by feminists for the portrayal, White years later pushed back saying Sue Ann shouldn't have been held to contemporary standards.

In "The Golden Girls," she played good-hearted Rose Nylund who was otherwise "not the brightest nickel in the drawer" as White once described her. Rose became a fan favorite and White was vital to the show's success.

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage...

Actress Betty White accepts Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award onstage during The 42nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 26, 2015 in Burbank, California. Credit: AP/Nick Ut

After "Girls," White kept working. She had a recurring role on "The Bold and the Beautiful" (2006-09), then had another success as sharp-tongued and outspoken Elka Ostrovsky on the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" (2010-15).

After the "SNL" hosting role, White said "everybody keeps congratulating me on my resurgence and my 'big comeback,' but I haven't been away guys. I've been working steadily for the past 63 years."

White — who devoted herself to animals, as an ambassador-at-large for the Los Angeles Zoo, and supporter of various charities including the Morris Animal Foundation — once said that when she got to heaven, Ludden would have to wait before she said hello to him. She had too many pet dogs she had to see first.

"I just don't know how I would have lived without animals," White once said. "They are the most interesting things in the world to me, and it's made such a difference in my life."

Earlier this week, White told People she was looking forward to turning 100 and attributed her "cockeyed optimism" to her longevity: "I got it from my mom, and that never changed. I always find the positive."

Top Stories