2021 ended on a sad note with the passing of Betty White. Sadly ironic, her death came right around when magazines began appearing on the shelves with her on the cover and some variation on the theme of “Betty White Turns 100”. She was, as you may well know, 99 years old and already planning a 100th birthday celebration for this month. By that point, why wouldn’t she, and why wouldn’t all her friends? Many somehow thought she might just live forever…and would have been happy for that to happen. Betty herself said just weeks before her passing, “I’m the luckiest broad on two feet to be as healthy as I am and to feel as good as I do.”
White was indeed one of a kind. Her career was long and epic. She was on a TV talk show in the 1940s, when TV itself was new and novel. She had her own sitcom, Life with Elizabeth by 1953. In 1951, she was nominated for an Emmy Award. She won seven along the way and got her last nomination in 2014… at age 92. She was one of those actresses who were always a part of our cultural backdrop, it seemed, rising to prominence as Sue Ann, the man-hungry cooking celebrity on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, before becoming the charmingly naïve Rose for over 200 episodes of The Golden Girls (and its short-lived spinoff The Golden Palace) in the ’80s and ’90s. Then in the last decade, she was Hot In Cleveland…or at least Elka in that show. Along the way there were too many walk-on roles and guest appearances to keep track of, from five different characters on the Love Boat, to Boston Legal to St. Elsewhere to doing voices on King of the Hill. She was nicknamed “the first lady of television”, to which she joked “yeah (I’m) that old!”… she pretty much was the first lady on television! Months before Alex Trebek passed away, when asked who would be a fitting replacement for him on Jeopardy, he quipped “someone younger, someone funnier than me.. so I’m thinking Betty White.” He added they had been friends for years.
The outpouring of sad comments about her passing was voluminous. Jamie Lee Curtis said “what women want is to live like Betty White. Full of love, creativity, and integrity and humor and dedication,” also mentioning Betty’s famous “service to animals.” Kristen Bell remembered “Betty was one of a kind. Kind, gracious and a wit that could stun a sailor.” Michelle Obama noted “Betty broke barriers, defied expectations, served her country (she’d volunteered to drive trucks for the Army during WWII as well as entertain troops) and pushed us all to laugh.” And on and on.
That’s not that unusual after a star dies, but what is unusual is the width of the community that responded thusly… and that no one had a bad word to say about her. But then, has anyone ever said a bad word about Betty White? She was the kind of person that seemed to love everyone and every animal and was loved and admired in return. The only celebrity I can think of who shares a similar love of the people – the entire people – Dolly Parton, suggested “Betty will live on forever, not only in this world but the world hereafter. I will always love Betty, as we all will.”
Well said Dolly…and when no one disagrees that is a life well-lived. Many people become widely famous; few of them are lauded and loved by all and disparaged not at all. May she rest in peace and laugh away the hereafter with her beloved husband Allen Ludden, who preceded her by about 40 years.
Betty White. One of The Commendables.