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Golden Girls star Betty White dies aged 99

US actor Betty White, best known for starring as Rose in 1980s sitcom The Golden Girls, has died aged 99.

She died less than a month before her 100th birthday.

White was born in Illinois on January 17th, 1922, and had a television career spanning more than 80 years.

She appeared in hit US sitcoms including Hot In Cleveland, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Betty White Show and Life With Elizabeth.

The screen veteran was named the woman entertainer with the longest television career by Guinness World Records, having started out in 1939.

She has also written several books and has won five Primetime Emmy Awards out of 21 nominations, and a handful of other top accolades.

Her agent and close friend Jeff Witjas told People magazine: “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever.”

In a youth-driven entertainment industry where an actor over 40 is facing career twilight, White was an elderly anomaly who was a star in her 60s and a pop culture phenomenon in her 80s and 90s.

Playing on her imminent likability, White was still starring in a 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.”

A headshot portrait of American actor Betty White wearing a veiled hat, circa 1955. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
A headshot portrait of American actor Betty White wearing a veiled hat, circa 1955. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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 second World War, 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 1970s, 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.

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 also was 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 1985-1992 and was one of the top-rated series of its time.

A 2011 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that White, then 89, was the most popular and trusted celebrity in America with an 86 per cent favorability rating.

White, who had no children, worked for animal causes. She once turned down a role in the movie As Good as It Gets because of a scene in which a dog was thrown in a garbage chute. – Reuters

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