Betty White: Golden Girls star dies age 99 - life, career and Ryan Reynolds tribute as Hollywood mourns

Betty White was best known for her role as Rose Nylund on the sitcom The Golden Girls

Betty White as she accepts a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award (Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NATAS)

American actress and Golden Girls star Betty White has passed away at the age of 99, a few weeks before what would have been her 100th birthday.

White, who is considered a Hollywood national treasure, was due to turn 100 on 17 January. Online, the late actress has received an outpouring of tributes.

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What was Betty White’s life like?

White was born in Illinois on 17 January 1922, and was the only child of parents Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and Horace Logan White.

In 1923, White’s family moved to California and then later to Los Angeles. She graduated from high school in 1939, after which she pursued her passion for writing before deciding to enter into the world of acting.

Her first acting job was at the Bliss Hayden Little Theatre, however after World War II broke out, she put her acting aspirations on hold to volunteer for the American Women’s Voluntary Services.

After the war, White found jobs like reading adverts on the radio, which eventually led to her being offered her very own radio show, called The Betty White Show.

Betty White at the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association’s (GLAZA) 44th Annual Beastly Ball (Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

In 1949, she co-hosted alongside Al Jarvis on his variety TV show, Hollywood On Television. White would eventually take over the reins by herself and in 1951 she was nominated for her first Emmy as Best Actress on television.

Across her life, White made a name for herself as a trailblazer for women on screen and claimed a huge variety of awards and honours, including five Primetime Emmy Awards, an induction into the Television Hall of Fame, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a SAG Award and in 2017 was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

White was considered a national treasure by many, and earlier this year a petition to name 17 January, White’s birthday, be named as Betty White Day. By the end of that month, the petition had amassed over 3,000 signatures.

What films and TV shows was she in?

While White has appeared in a huge number of films and TV shows, she is best known for her role as Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, which ran for seven seasons from 1985 to 1992.

After The Golden Girls ended, White and costars Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty reprised their roles for the short lived spinoff The Golden Palace.

During its original run on TV, The Golden Girls received a total of 68 Emmys, four Golden Globes and two Viewers for Quality Television awards, with all the lead actresses winning Emmys for their performances on the series.

Betty White and Golden Girls costars Beatrice Arthur and Rue McClanahan (Photo: Todd Williamson/Getty Images for TV Land)

Her first on screen debut starring as a character, so not as herself, was in 1953 as the title character on the TV comedy Life with Elizabeth, a program which White actually produced, making her the first woman to produce a sitcom, a fact which contributed to her being named as honorary Mayor of Hollywood in 1955.

Following Life with Elizabeth, White went on to star in the sitcom Date with the Angels from 1957 to 1958.

Come the 1960s, White was a familiar face on a variety of game shows and talk shows, including The Tonight Show, Password, What’s My Life?, To Tell the Truth, I’ve Got a Secret, Match Game and Pyramid, to name but a few.

Her feature film debut was as Kansas Senator Elizabeth Ames Adams in the 1962 film Advise & Consent.

Some of her other big roles included appearances in the likes of The Bold and the Beautiful, Boston Legal, The Proposal, Hot in Cleveland and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

When did she die?

White passed away “peacefully in her sleep at her home” in the morning of Friday 31 December, her agent, Jeff Witjas, told People magazine in a statement.

Witjas added: “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 loved her 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.”

Allen Ludden, who married White in 1963, passed away on 9 June 1981 at age 63.

Betty White arriving for an evening with Betty White held at Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2012 (Photo: Toby Canham/Getty Images)

Shortly before her death, White told People magazine in an interview that she felt “so lucky to be in such good health” as she approached her 100th birthday.

She said: “I’m so lucky to be in such good health and feel so good at this age. It’s amazing.

“I try to avoid anything green. I think it’s working.”

What tributes have been made to her?

Industry giants across Hollywood have issued their tributes to the acting legend after the news of her death was announced.

Ryan Reynolds has said “the world looks different now” that White has died.

White played Reynolds’ grandmother in 2009 romantic comedy The Proposal, earning herself a Golden Globe nomination.

The actor shared a photo to Instagram of White smiling and giving the camera a thumbs-up and wrote: “She was great at defying expectation.

“She managed to grow very old and somehow, not old enough.

“We’ll miss you, Betty. Now you know the secret.”

Shortly before her death, it was announced that a documentary about the life and career of White was going to be screened on what would have been her 100th birthday.

It has been announced that the screening will go ahead as planned.

Betty White: 100 Years Young producers, Steve Boettcher and Mike Trinklein, said they hope the documentary will be a celebration of her life and “experience what made her such a national treasure”.

In a statement posted online they said: “Our hearts mourn today with the passing of Betty White.

“During the many years we worked with her, we developed a great love and admiration for Betty as a person, and as an accomplished entertainer.

“We are thankful for the many decades of delight she brought to everyone.

“Betty always said she was the ‘luckiest broad on two feet’ to have had a career as long as she did. And, honestly, we were the lucky ones to have had her for so long.

“We will go forward with our plans to show the film on January 17 in hopes our film will provide a way for all who loved her to celebrate her life – and experience what made her such a national treasure.”

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