Betty White's Life in Photos
The beloved actress turns 99 on Jan. 17 — celebrate by revisiting some of her most memorable moments that prove she truly is the First Lady of Television
Betty White was born on Jan. 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois. Soon after her birth, her family moved to California, where White (seen here in her senior portrait) graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939.
White got her start in radio, beginning with commercials and eventually landing her own program, The Betty White Show. It wasn't until 1949 that she began appearing on television, co-hosting Hollywood on Television with Al Jarvis.
In 1952, White took over the show, became its producer (a rarity for the time) and then created Life with Elizabeth. She earned her first Emmy for her work on the show.
There's a reason we call her the First Lady of Television! In 1954, she became the host of her own daily variety show, The Betty White Show. She continued to serve as producer on the show, pushing boundaries by hiring a female director and showcasing Arthur Duncan, a Black performer, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
In a PBS tribute to her career, Betty White: First Lady of Television, White said that, when faced with backlash and boycotts over her decision to feature Duncan, "I said, ‘I’m sorry. Live with it.'"
However, The Betty White Show was canceled shortly thereafter.
White followed up her variety show with parts on The Millionaire (1956) and Date with the Angels (1957-1958).
In 1961, White met Allen Ludden while appearing on Password, the game show he hosted, as a celebrity guest. Two years later, the couple married; they were together until his death in 1981.
Ludden was her third husband. White's first marriage to Dick Barker in 1945 lasted one year, while her second, to Lane Allen in 1947, ended in divorce two years later.
Password wasn't the only game show to feature White as a celebrity contestant. The witty actress also competed on game shows like Pyramid, To Tell The Truth, I've Got a Secret, Match Game and What's My Line.
Here, she competes on Password in 1967, as her husband hosts.
She also was the host of some pretty coveted gigs herself! She hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for 10 years alongside Lorne Greene. Here, the pair sits and watches as floats go by in 1965.
In 1973, White began appearing on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Sue Ann Nivens.
Her time on the blockbuster show would lead to two Emmy Awards for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.
In 1977, after the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, White (seen here as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) was offered her own show, again named The Betty White Show, but it only lasted one season.
She would go on to appear on The Carol Burnett Show and in sketches on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Right, White and Carson dress as Tarzan and Jane in 1981.
In 1981, White's husband, Allen Ludden, died of stomach cancer. White never remarried, and the The Daily Mail reported her as saying "Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest?"
She added of her third husband, "I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him."
In 1983, White got her own game show, Just Men, and became the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding game show host.
In 1983, she appeared on television with fellow comedic powerhouse Joan Rivers, who was guest hosting for The Tonight Show. The pair would become close friends and eventually appear in Hot in Cleveland together in 2010.
In 1985, White began starring as Rose Nylund in Golden Girls alongside Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Rue McClanahan.
In 1986, White won an Emmy for outstanding actress in a comedy series for her role in Golden Girls, and would go on to be nominated for the role six more times.
In 1992, Golden Girls ended after White's costar Bea Arthur announced that she would be departing the series. White, McClanahan and Getty all returned to reprise their roles in The Golden Palace, though the series only lasted one season.
White continued acting after Golden Girls, taking roles in sitcoms including Maybe This Time, That '70s Show, Suddenly Susan and The Practice. From 2005 to 2008, she had a recurring role on Boston Legal and in 2006, she joined the cast of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and appeared for 22 episodes.
She also made a return to game shows in 2008 with Million Dollar Password, and starred in The Proposal alongside Sandra Bullock (pictured right) in 2009.
On top of her seven Emmy wins and two SAG Awards, White also has two American Comedy Awards and was the recipient of lifetime achievement awards at the Emmys in 2015, the SAG Awards in 2010 and the American Comedy Awards in 1990.
She is also a Grammy Award winner: She won for best spoken-word recording for the audio version of her book If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) in 2011.
In 2008, the living Golden Girls (White, Arthur and Rue McLanahan) reunited to accept the Pop Culture Award at the TV Land Awards Show.
in 2010, White made a hilarious cameo in a commercial for Snickers at the 2010 Super Bowl XLIV.
As a result of her viral commercial, there was an online campaign for the actress to host Saturday Night Live. The show delivered; at 88, White became the oldest person to host. The appearance earned her an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series.
In 2012, White got a celebration for her 90th birthday befitting of a legend. NBC aired a 90-minute tribute entitled Betty White's Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl, with star-studded tributes to the legend. She even got a message from President Barack Obama!
From 2010 to 2014, White kept busy playing Elka Ostrovsky on the TV Land series Hot in Cleveland. She was nominated for an Emmy for the role in 2011.
In 2018, White stopped by the Emmy Awards to prove that she's still just hilarious at 96. Three years later, at 99, White continues to both inspire us and make us laugh.
White has earned many accolades over her long career, but perhaps most dear to her heart are the honors she's received from many organizations to recognize her work in animal conservation and protection. The actress, a lifelong animal lover, served on the board of the Los Angeles Zoo for decades and the dues for her fan club, Bets' Pets, went towards animal rescue charities.
When she received the Smithson Medal from the National Zoo in recognition of her work in the area, White said, "What a privilege to be honored simply for my passion—for what I love most in the world—animals."
So what's the secret to White's success? In 2011, White told David Letterman on The Late Show with David Letterman her top tips for a long and happy life. Among them were these gems:
- "Exercise. Or don't, what the hell do I care?"
- "Schedule a nightly appointment with Dr. Johnnie Walker."
- "Try not to die."
Now 99 years old, the actress offered a more serious look back on the key to her full and joyful life. "Don't take yourself too seriously," she told PEOPLE. "You can lie to others – not that I would – but you cannot lie to yourself."
She also told PEOPLE that she is choosing to focus on the good saying, "I don't like the other side. The positive side is a lot more fun."