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Betty White, doyenne of US television, dead at 99

Mourners gather around the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of actor Betty White in Los Angeles, California, on Friday. - Reuters
Mourners gather around the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of actor Betty White in Los Angeles, California, on Friday. - Reuters

LOS ANGELES: Actress Betty White, who made US television audiences laugh for more than seven decades, starring on popular sitcoms "The Golden Girls" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," died on Friday at age 99.

The pioneering Emmy-winning comedienne enjoyed one of the longest careers in showbiz history: she began regularly appearing on television in 1949 and had a voice role in "Toy Story 4" in 2019.

"Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever," her agent Jeff Witjas told People magazine in a statement.

"I will miss her terribly."

TMZ, citing law enforcement sources, said she died at her home on Friday. The cause of death was not immediately revealed.

The news sparked an outpouring of tributes, with President Joe Biden tweeting, "Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She's a cultural icon who will be sorely missed."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, said White was "a legend, trailblazer and cultural icon who blessed generations with her talent and humor. She will be truly missed."

White was one of the first woman producers on the 1950s sitcom "Life With Elizabeth," in which she also starred.

Later, as a nonagenarian, she interacted with much younger fans on Instagram.

"It's incredible that I'm still in this business -- and you are still putting up with me!" White said at the 2018 Emmys.

In all, she won five primetime Emmys, two daytime awards including one for lifetime achievement, and a regional Emmy in Los Angeles.

White, whose signature halo of white-blonde hair and clear blue eyes were instantly recognizable, adopted a variety of on-screen personas.

She went from playing a 1950s housewife on "Elizabeth" to a man-hungry 1970s TV personality on "Moore" to a doe-eyed 1980s "Golden Girl" retiree.

In real life, she loved delivering irreverent one-liners.

When asked by late-night host David Letterman about her favorite pastimes, the long-time animal welfare advocate replied: "(I like to) play with animals, mostly. And vodka's kind of a hobby."

Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922 in the outskirts of Chicago. The family moved to California during the Great Depression.

White said her love of acting started with a school production, but she credited her parents -- a homemaker and a lighting company executive -- as her comedic inspiration.

After a few years of modeling, she did a stint in the American Women's Voluntary Services during World War II.

That service drew a tweet Friday from the official US Army Twitter account, saying, "We are saddened by the passing of Betty White... a true legend on and off the screen."

After the war, White segued to radio gigs, reading commercials and playing small roles.

Her first regular television work came in 1949 on the variety show "Hollywood on Television." A few years later, she co-created "Life with Elizabeth."

It was through her early television career that White met Allen Ludden, her third and last husband, who hosted the game show "Password," on which she appeared frequently.

She became a game show staple in the 1960s and 1970s, before Mary Tyler Moore came calling.

White would go on to win two Emmys for her portrayal of Sue Ann Nivens on the newsroom sitcom. - AFP

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