Betty White: 1922 – 2021

I hate this post has to be my first official one back, but I have to do it.

My late grandmother loved watching The Golden Girls during its run. As a child, I dismissed the show, thinking it was just a sitcom specifically made for folks in my grandmother’s age range. It wasn’t until I was an 18 yr. old college student—mere months after my Nana left this world—that I realized The Golden Girls was a damn funny show. When I went back to Clemson for my sophomore year, my roommate at the time was a HUGE fan, and we watched the reruns every night on Lifetime. I officially fell in love with The Golden Girls after that, and I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.

Now, my favorite Golden Girls are Dorothy and Sophia (namely Dorothy, since she’s a bookworm like me and she reminds me so much of Nana), but I loved Rose as well. Rose was kind, caring, and perpetually optimistic (with a few exceptions). Her ditzy ways and childlike demeanor never failed to make my side hurt with laughter, and I lived for her St. Olaf stories (not to mention her off-the-wall Scandinavian sayings). I have a story for everything myself, so I can definitely relate. I later learned that Mrs. Betty White was initially considered to play the role of sexy Southerner Blanche (who I also love, by the way), but she was chosen to be Rose. I’m glad they made that decision. No one could’ve played Rose Nylund like Betty White did.

After becoming a fan of The Golden Girls, I started learning more about Betty White and seeing some of her other work. I watched Lake Placid the summer after completing my Freshman year at Clemson (for some reason, 1999 and 2000 were stuck on films involving extremely large, carnivorous animals), and Betty made a hilarious appearance as a local woman that was (*SPOILER ALERT*) feeding the doggone crocodile. The only thing that shocked me more than the fact that she was feeding the ginormous reptile was that she cussed like a sailor in the film!

A few years later, circa 2006, Betty made an equally side-splitting appearance on Ugly Betty, where she played herself. It was then that I realized that this woman was just funny, period. It didn’t matter what character she was portraying. I also learned that before she was part of The Golden Girls cast, she was featured in Carol Burnett’s “The Family” sketch (“The Family” later evolved into the sitcom Mama’s Family, which also featured both Betty and Rue McClanahan in the first season), as Ellen, the beautiful and successful daughter that Mama (Vickie Lawrence) clearly favors over her other daughter, Eunice (Carol Burnett). During my Christmas vacation I watched one of “The Family” sketches on YouTube, and I was rollin’.

By the time the 2010s rolled around, Betty made a comeback in a major way. She was everywhere. She starred in the hit TV show Hot in Cleveland, she hosted an episode of SNL, starred in the film You Again, and made a ton of television appearances. I was happy to see her still doing her thing after so many years and achieving success long after The Golden Girls ended. Plus, by this time, all the other Golden Girls had passed on, so I was just glad that she was still here with us.

Aside from Mrs. White being a comedic force to be reckoned with, she was a philanthropist, which I also admired. She was a hardcore advocate for animal rights (even the character of Rose Nylund was an animal lover), and she also spoke up for the LGBTQ community. I recently learned that during the 1950s, when she hosted The Betty White Show, she had African-American tap dancer Arthur Duncan featured as a regular performer. This upset the racists folks, mainly the ones past the Mason-Dixon line, and they outwardly complained. Betty let them know that Mr. Duncan wasn’t going anywhere, and they just had to “live with it.” I heard that! Needless to say, her show was canceled soon after that. That’s okay. She thrived all the same.

After the 2010s, Ms. Betty officially retired. Even though I was sad that she wouldn’t be seen as frequently, I understood. After all, by this time she was in her 90s and more than deserved her rest. Over the course of the next few years, she’d trend often on Twitter, and folks would let it be known that she was okay; people were just singing her praises while she was still here. Usually these tweets would be followed by the now famed Denzel “Whew!” GIF.

I’d see other tweets imploring to wrap up Betty White—along with Morgan Freeman, Paul McCartney, and Elton John—in bubble wrap. I was inclined to agree with them.

Her centennial birthday was coming up this month, and the celebration was going to be televised. I had every intention of watching it. Unfortunately, while I was in the nail salon waiting to get a pedicure for New Year’s, I logged onto Twitter and saw that Betty White was trending…because she passed away that very day at the age of 99. I scrolled through the tweets in hopes of seeing the Denzel GIF announcing that it was a hateful rumor, but I found other tweets from the likes of CNN and People confirming it instead. I couldn’t help but utter, “Dammit,” under my breath, drawing the other customers’ attention to me. I didn’t care, though.

Mrs. White’s 100th birthday special is still planning on being televised, and I’m still going to watch it on Jan. 17, Lord willin’. I just wish the woman that we’ll be celebrating was still here to enjoy it and bless us with her sweet personality and sharp wit.

She’ll be sorely missed.

Note: That should read, “I don’t know what’s sadder…the fact that we lost Mrs. White…” Forgive me; I was still at the nail salon when I made the post and it looks like I got a bit distracted.

Betty Marion White Ludden: January 17, 1922 – December 31, 2021

—Written by Nadiya

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