A tribute to the life and legacy of the world’s Golden Girl
There are few celebrity deaths that have hit the world collectively harder than the likes of those such as Elvis, Princess Diana, Robin Williams, Prince or Bowie. On New Year’s Eve, as I was watching a movie at home, the reports starting rolling across my phone that we’d lost our beloved Betty White. I went to my trusted sources, and sure enough, there were the words in black and white, “Betty White, 99, died this morning, just weeks before her 100th birthday.” I don’t cry at celebrity deaths very often, but I sat there and cried my heart out. Betty was “America’s Grandmother”. She embodied all the fun, joy, and love we crave in a person. The fact that she was a celebrity never seemed to influence her sense of worth or humbleness.
Betty was born in 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois to parents Horace and Tess White. She was an only child to the electrical engineer and homemaker and when she was just 2 years old, the family relocated to Los Angeles. She began her television career in the 1930s and worked longer in television than anyone else in history, earning her a Guinness World Record in 2018. Throughout her 8 decade (Ima say that again, EIGHT DECADE!!) career, White earned seven Emmy Awards, three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actor Guild Awards and a Grammy Award.
Betty’s television career was stellar. She starred in Life With Elizabeth in the 1950s, but was best known for her roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, Golden Girls in the 80s and early 90s and Hot In Cleveland in 2010. 2010 proved to be a year of resurgence in popularity for Ms White, who became the oldest person, at the spritely age of 88, to host Saturday Night Live after a successful Facebook effort to get her to host the popular show was launched. She was initially reluctant to do the show, explaining to Newsweek that it “was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was really funny stuff, but it was a challenge.” That same year, she also starred in (to me personally) one of the FUNNIEST Super Bowl Commercials EVER. She was cast in a Snickers commercial, with one of the best comeback lines ever uttered. Check it out:
For most folks my age, we grew up on The Golden Girls. It was great back then, but has since become a success once again over the years on a cult level of sorts! I never realized until recently just how progressive that show was for its time. They tackled a lot of subjects that most tv shows of that time skirted around. Betty’s character, Rose Nylund, was, in her own words, “so innocent, not the brightest nickel in the drawer, but funny“. Rose frequently tells the other women various stories of her hometown, St. Olaf. She would usually begin each story with, “Back in St. Olaf…”, which is HILARIOUS to the audience, not so much to her fellow housemates on the show! For me, the best part of her stories of St Olaf are the words she uses to describe things. Here’s an excerpt:
- Genügenflürgen cake, a type of cake with an ancient Scandinavian recipe that Rose Americanized.
- Vertugenflürgen, a word used by Rose that is the St. Olaf equivalent of “I’m not one to blow my own horn.”, with ‘vertugenflürgen’ replacing ‘horn’. Sophia claimed she couldn’t even reach hers, which may imply a more explicit meaning – or Sophia being her usual sarcastic self.
- Guggenspritzer, aSt. Olaf version of Monopoly. There is no money due to the bank, built by a bad contractor, sinking into a swamp leaving nothing but safety deposit slips and a pen on a chain. Also, you can buy the library or the phone booth, yet ‘people use the phone booth’. Rose managed to win the entire game by buying one street – the only street in St Olaf.
- Ugel and Flugel, an adult version of the children’s game ‘hide and seek’.
- Langenhølden, a Viking hat with horns
- Kaflügenachen, Scandinavian pejorative term for someone who docks his boat in the handicap slip without a handicap permit.
Betty was also involved in many other tv shows and movies throughout the years. Most notable for our generation are Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, Golden Palace, The John Larroquette Show, Boston Legal, The Bold and the Beautiful, and The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. She also joined an all-star roster of talent for 2019’s Toy Story 4, voicing a tiger teething toy named “Bitey White“, and headlined a Lifetime holiday movie the following year.
She also added published author to her repertoire! During the 1980s and 1990s she wrote Betty White In Person (1987) and Here We Go Again: My Life in Television (1995), which was re-released in 2010. In 2010, she signed a two-book deal with G. P. Putnam’s Sons. White’s set of observations on her life and career, If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t) was published in the spring of 2011. Her next work My Life at the Zoo: Betty and Her Friends came out that fall. Y’all, my birthday is January 18th, (it’s not lost on me that it’s the day after HER birthday!) and I’d love to get ALL or SOME of these books as gifts…just saying!
Aside from her career on film, Betty was passionate about animals. She worked with the Los Angeles Zoo and the Morris Animal Foundation for more than four decades. She was quoted as saying, “I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals.” There’s a movement to celebrate Betty White on what would have been her 100th birthday, January 17th, by donating $5 to your favorite local animal charity in her honor. I’m doing it, and I hope many others will do the same.
Betty White joked for YEARS about her relationship with Ryan Reynolds. They bantered back and forth ever since meeting on the set of The Proposal. To me, it’s one of the more charming and coolest friendships ever. Betty played “Gammy Annie”, Reynolds’ character’s hilarious and endearing grandmother in the movie. Although they made it seem they had a fling, which the media ATE UP, they were in truth, just very close and dear friends. Reminiscing over the memory while being interviewed by PEOPLE, White lightheartedly accused Reynolds of not being able to “get over his thing for me” and insisted that despite Reynold’s charisma and charm, “Robert Redford is The One.” Redford later commented he had a crush on her, too, when pressed for a statement. Regardless, it’s safe to say NO ONE was safe from the charm of the incomparable Betty White.
Betty White was beloved by us regular folks, and celebrities alike. Once the news spread about her death, tributes began pouring in. Here are just a few:
The world looks different now. 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. – Ryan Reynolds.
Rest in peace, sweet Betty. My God, how bright heaven must be right now. – Valerie Bertinelli
Gd bless Betty White. R.I.P. 99 is amazing! – Boy George
So sad to hear about Betty White passing. I loved watching her characters that brought so much joy. Thank you, Betty, for making us all laugh! – Reese Witherspoon
“I don’t drink vodka … but I will tonight, on ice, with a slice of lemon with a hot dog on the other side and just be OK being sad,” the 57-year-old actress told People. “I’ll have to buy some rose-colored glasses because Betty was that for all of us.” – Sandra Bullock
Betty was married 3 times, but the love her life was her third husband, Allen Ludden, whom she met while a regular on the tv game show, Password, which he hosted. It’s reported her last word said before she passed away was Allen’s name. I sincerely hope that is true.
Betty White was asked once what she credited her long life to, and she replied, “hot dogs, vodka and avoiding anything green”. MY KINDA LADY, y’all! She went on to add, “Enjoy life. Accentuate the positive, not the negative. It sounds so trite, but a lot of people will pick out something to complain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great!’ It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look.”
It’s hard to sum up someone’s life, especially if you never met them, but felt like you knew and loved them. I mean, heck, I’ve never known a world without Betty White in it! It’s also hard if they lived to be 99.99999 years old. I mean, let’s just GIVE her the freaking 100 badge, y’all! She earned it.
Ms Betty White, may you be back in your beloved Allen’s arms, surrounded by all your dear friends and fur babies who left before you, and may you rest in peace and love knowing you have left many MANY broken hearted people back here who are going to throw one heck of a birthday celebration in your honor on January 17th. You’re our Golden Girl, whose legacy will forever live on and endure.
Thank you, for being a friend.