It’s impossible to name a more universally beloved celebrity than Betty White.
The “Golden Girls” star, who died Friday at age 99, had a rare cross-generational appeal that lasted her entire seven-decade career in Hollywood. Five year olds know her as the CGI Bitey White in “Toy Story 4” and 95 year olds watched her way back on the short-lived “Life with Elizabeth.”
It helped that the woman worked feverishly. Her final role was as Bitey, a stuffed tiger, in 2019’s “Toy Story 4” and the Disney+ short, “Forky Asks A Question.” She was still commuting at 97.
“I’m just grateful to be working and that starts at the beginning,” White told The Post’s Michael Starr in 2018. “When you start out you’re so grateful to have a job … and you carry that feeling through your whole career. At least I have.”
Also important is that as a regular in our homes, the actress, from all accounts, always showed us honestly who she was. She really was nice. She really was bubbly. She didn’t practice that giggle. She truly adored show business. Everybody knew Betty White.
Older fans might remember “The Betty White Show,” her variety talk program that premiered in 1954, the same year as “The Tonight Show.” Along with Steve Allen, she established the format that hasn’t changed much to this day — jokes, banter with the bandleader, a desk.
If you binge the Game Show Network, you can catch old episodes of “Password,” where she met her future husband, host Al Ludden, in 1961. While White is best known as being lovably ditzy Minnesotan Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls,” Ludden was entranced by her quick wit, intellect and beauty. After her first gig, she’d make up excuses to fly out to New York and appear on “Password” to see him. The couple wedded in 1963.
In the 1970s came “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” As Sue Ann Nivens, “The Happy Homemaker” on WJM-TV, White gave her sweet persona a new spin — the smiles were faked for the fictional TV station, and off-camera to Mary and Co. she was a flirty terror. With White’s death, no cast members of the classic sit-com are left.
But it’s Rose and “The Golden Girls” that audiences love White most for. She lived with three single women — Bea Arthur’s Dorothy, Rue McClanahan’s Blanche and Estelle Getty’s Sophia — in a Miami house where they squabbled, dated men, hatched schemes and competed against each other in talent shows.
This is why teens cherish her as much as their grandparents do. After “Golden Girls” was canceled in 1992, the Lifetime channel aired reruns nightly for many years, making White countless new fans. (When the show arrived on Hulu in 2017, it was announced with the excitement of a papal visit.) Then in 2010, she was cast in a cameo role on “Hot In Cleveland.” The performance was so well-received she was made a regular.
That same year, White became the oldest “Saturday Night Live” host ever, at 88, after a social media campaign demanded Lorne Michaels put her on.
It goes without saying, but what other octogenarian stars light up Twitter’s imagination like that?
Betty White did until the end.
Every year, websites aimed at young people celebrated her birthday like she was Nick Jonas. “Happy 94th Birthday, Betty White! Find Out How She Plans on Celebrating,” said US Magazine. “Betty White’s 99th Birthday Plans Are Truly A Balm To The Soul,” wrote Bustle. This whole bickering world could always agree on one thing — Betty White.
A massive event had been planned for her upcoming milestone on Jan. 17 called “Betty White: 100 Years Young — A Birthday Celebration.” Meant to be simulcast in 100 cinemas nationwide, it features A-listers such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tina Fey and Ryan Reynolds, looking back on and toasting White’s life. I hope the show still goes on.
It will be an event to bring the whole family to.