Betty White, beloved actress, comedian, and gay icon, has died at the age of 99.
The endlessly witty and hilarious White spent decades upon decades captivating audiences, only growing funnier and more unstoppable as she aged.
For White, aging never seemed like a limitation. At 88, she was posing with hunky men for a 2011 calendar to benefit the Morris Animal Foundation. In her nineties, she was hosting Saturday Night Live and playing pranks on young people as host of the show, Betty White’s Off Their Rocker.
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White is perhaps best known for playing Rose Nylund on the hit NBC sitcom, The Golden Girls, but she had a long, barrier-breaking career both before and after she landed that role in 1985.
In the 1970s, White won two Emmys for her portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In 1983, she became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host, ironically for a show called Just Men! Before hosting the show, White had spent years appearing on a variety of competition shows, earning her the moniker, “The First Lady of Game Shows.”
In the 1950s, she also became the first woman to both produce and star in a sitcom when she portrayed the titular character in “Life with Elizabeth” for two seasons.
White died an eight-time Emmy Award winner, but even more impressive than her accolades was the enduring charm that allowed her to captivate audiences throughout her entire life.
White’s energy and sense of humor were only facets of what made her universally loved. She had a warmth about her, too. While she never took herself too seriously, she always had a way of making audiences feel like they were curled up drinking a hot cup of cocoa while they watched her perform.
She had it all, really, that rare combination of indelible talent, warmth, bluntness, and charm.
White was universally beloved, but she held a particularly special place in the heart of the queer community. Washington Blade writer Kathi Wolfe wrote in 2010 that this connection LGBTQ+ people felt to her stemmed from the struggles White has endured.
“She’s thrived through the Depression, World War II, divorce, the loss of her husband Allen Ludden (who she call[ed] the “love of her life”) and aging. We’ve carried on (and often prospered) in the midst of bigotry, rejection from our families, ostracism by our straight peers and AIDS. We identify with and respect survivors. Especially when they’re talented and funny.”
White was not only treasured by the LGBTQ+ community; she also stood up for us, speaking out in favor of marriage equality when it still wasn’t too popular to do so.
In 2010, White sat down with Parade magazine and declared her support for LGBTQ+ people.
“I don’t care who anybody sleeps with,” she said. “If a couple has been together all that time – and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones – I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”
She repeated something along those lines more than once. In 2019, she appeared in a video for GLAAD to speak out against bullying of LGBTQ+ youth, in which she joked about changing her name to Betty Purple in honor of the color of GLAAD Spirit Day.
When her husband, Allen, passed away, White was quoted as saying that she’d never remarry because “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?”
In White, we too, had the best.