Beloved American actress Betty White dies aged 99

White, best known for roles on The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died on Friday, US media have reported.

Actress Betty White holds flowers while standing on stage at the People's Choice awards
Actress Betty White accepts the favourite TV Icon award during the 2015 People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles, California [Mario Anzuoni/Reuters]

Iconic American comedian and actress Betty White, whose groundbreaking career spanned decades, has died at age 99, US media outlets have reported.

Jeff Witjas, White’s agent and close friend, told People magazine in a statement on Friday that “even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever”.

“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,” Witjas said.

Citing law enforcement sources, TMZ first reported that White died at her home on Friday morning, less than three weeks before her 100th birthday on January 17.

The Washington Post also confirmed White’s death, citing her agent. No cause of death was specified, the newspaper said.

The cast of The Golden Girls, Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White pose
White, right, played Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, which ran in the 1980s and 90s [Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank]

Perhaps best known for her memorable roles on “The Golden Girls” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, White’s decades-long career blazed a trail for other female comedians and actresses in the United States.

In a youth-driven industry where an actress above age 40 often faces career twilight, White remained a star in her 60s and became a pop culture phenomenon in her 80s and 90s.

Playing on her imminent likability, White was still starring in the TV sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” at age 92, until it was cancelled in late 2014.

White said her longevity was a result of good health, good fortune and loving her work.

“It’s incredible that I’m still in this business and that you are still putting up with me,” White said in an appearance at the 2018 Emmy Awards ceremony, where she was honoured for her long career. “It’s incredible that you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.”

In her last Twitter post on December 28, White shared a recent interview she gave to People magazine before her centennial birthday.

She said she was “so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good” at her age, telling the US outlet that she was “born a cockeyed optimist”.

“I got it from my mom, and that never changed,” she said. “I always find the positive.”

Born Betty Marion White on January 17, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, her family moved to Los Angeles during the Great Depression, where she attended Beverly Hills High School.

White started her entertainment career in radio in the late 1930s, and by 1939 had made her TV debut singing on an experimental channel in Los Angeles. After serving in the American Women’s Voluntary Service, which helped the US effort during World War II, she was a regular on Hollywood on Television, a daily five-hour live variety show, in 1949.

A few years later she became a pioneering woman in television by co-founding a production company and serving as a co-creator, producer and star of the 1950s sitcom “Life With Elizabeth”.

Through the 1960s and early 70s, White was seen regularly on television, hosting coverage of the annual Tournament of Rose Parade and appearing on game shows such as Match Game, and Password. She married Password host Allen Ludden, her third and final husband, in 1963.

Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White, Gavin McLeod and other cast members in a scene from the Mary Tyler Moore show
White won best-supporting actress Emmys in 1975 and 1976 for her role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show [CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images]

White reached a new level of success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing the host of a home-making television show, the snide, lusty Sue Ann Nivens, whose credo was “a woman who does a good job in the kitchen is sure to reap her rewards in other parts of the house”.

White won best-supporting actress Emmys for the role in 1975 and 1976. She won another Emmy in 1986 for The Golden Girls, a sitcom about four older women living together in Miami that featured an age demographic rarely highlighted on American television.

White was also nominated for an Emmy six other times for her portrayal of the widowed Rose Nylund, a sweet, naive and ditzy Midwesterner, on the show, which ran from 1985 to 1992 and was one of the top-rated series of its time.

Tributes poured in for White after news of her death broke on Friday afternoon.

“RIP Betty White, the only [Saturday Night Live] host I ever saw get a standing ovation at the after party,” Seth Meyers, an SNL alum and host of Late Night with Seth Meyers, wrote on Twitter. “A party at which she ordered a vodka and a hotdog and stayed til the bitter end.”

Actor and director Henry Winkler said it was “very hard to absorb” the news of White’s death, but thanked her for her “humor, warmth and activism”.

Actor George Takei described White as a “national treasure” and urged people to raise a toast to her at midnight. White “has joined the heavens to delight the stars with her inimitable style, humor, and charm”, Takei wrote on Twitter.

Comedian Kathy Griffin also said: “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.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies