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Betty White, beloved ‘Golden Girl,’ dead at 99

The Hollywood icon was just weeks short of reaching her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.

Betty White, the comedic actress whose career spanned more than 80 years and who seemed to bring a smile to anyone’s face just by the mention of her name, has died, according to her longtime agent. She was 99 years old and just weeks shy of her 100th birthday. 

White’s two most famous roles were on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s and “The Golden Girls” between 1985 and 1992. She continued acting into her late 90s.

Betty Marion White Ludden was born January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Ill. She had no siblings.

White's television career started in 1939, three months after graduating high school. She and a former classmate sang songs on a Los Angeles TV channel.

In 1949, White co-hosted "Hollywood on Television" on KLAC-TV in Los Angeles. The show was very simple: White and her co-host would ad-lib on camera for 5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week.

"Whatever happened, you had to handle it. There was never any rehearsal or script or anything," White told NPR in 2014. "Whoever came in that door was on, and you were interviewing them."

Eventually, White hosted the show solo for a short time. It’s believed that made her television's first solo female talk show host.

White went on to have her own series, "Life with Elizabeth" from 1953-1955. She also appeared in the short-lived series "Date with the Angels" in the late 1950s. From there, she racked up a number of guest appearances on various shows and TV movies.

Credit: AP
FILE - This Dec. 25, 1985 file photo shows the stars of the television series "The Golden Girls" , from left, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Betty White during a break in taping in Hollywood, Calif. The sitcom, which followed four women of a certain age living together in Miami, aired on NBC from 1985 to 1992. Nearly 35 years later, it continues to gain new fans and has inspired a wave of merchandising. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Then came the role that helped her really take off. On the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” White played Sue Ann Nivens, the sharp-witted, man-chasing co-worker of Mary Richards (played by Moore) in a Minneapolis TV station newsroom.

After the show ended, there would be the short-lived “Betty White Show” and another series of guest turns on various programs over the next 18 years until her next big role – that of the sweet but naïve Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” It was a stark contrast from the character she played “Mary Tyler Moore.”

Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Betty White speaks on stage at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

The role of Rose was supposed to initially go to Rue McClanahan while White was cast as Blanche Devereaux – a character similar to the one she played as Nivens. But the show’s director, Jay Sandrich, asked them to read each other’s parts. Both actresses welcomed the change.