Beloved actress Betty White dies weeks before 100th birthday

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(WJW / AP) — Beloved actress and American icon Betty White has died at the age of 99, just weeks before her 100th birthday.

According to TMZ, law enforcement says Betty passed away at her home Friday morning.

She 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, watch-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 also a role model for how to grow old joyously.

“Don’t try to be young,” she told The AP. “Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.”

Such was her popularity that even White’s birthday became a national event: In January 2012, NBC aired “Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party” as a star-studded prime-time special. She would later appear in such series as “Bones” and Fireside Chat With Esther” and in 2019 gave voice to one of the toys, “Bitey White,” in “Toy Story 4.”

With 115 acting credits to her name, Betty has shown in up in productions like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Betty White Show,” “The Love Boat,” “Mama’s Family,” “That ’70s Show,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Pound Puppies,” “Hot in Cleveland,” to name a few.

She has multiple Emmys to her name and also Screen Actors Guild Awards, American Comedy Awards and even a Grammy.

“Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever,” her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas tells PEOPLE in a statement on Friday. “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.” 

Off-screen, White tirelessly raised money for animal causes such as the Morris Animal Foundation and the Los Angeles Zoo. In 1970-1971, she wrote, produced and hosted a syndicated TV show, “The Pet Set,” to which celebrities brought their dogs and cats. She wrote a 1983 book titled “Betty White’s Pet Love: How Pets Take Care of Us,” and, in 2011, published “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo.”

Her devotion to pets was such that she declined a plum role in the hit 1997 movie “As Good As It Gets.” She objected to a scene in which Jack Nicholson drops a small dog down a laundry chute.

When asked how she had managed to be universally beloved during her decades-spanning career, she summed up with a dimpled smile: “I just make it my business to get along with people so I can have fun. It’s that simple.”

Her family was getting ready to celebrate her 100th birthday on January 17.

You can leave condolences for Betty White on the FOX 8 News Facebook page:

Rest in Peace, Betty.

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