Celebrate Betty White's 98th Birthday with Her Amazing Life and Career in Pictures
A Star Is Born
Born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, to Tess Curtis and Horace Lawrence White, the future icon's family left their Oak Park, Illinois, hometown during the Great Depression, relocating to Los Angeles. The acting bug caught her early on — White scored the lead in her high school play before graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1940.
In the Hot Seat
The aspiring actress (here in 1957) landed several radio gigs before landing a regular job co-hosting the live variety show Hollywood on Television, where she honed her comedic chops. She even had her own daily talk show, The Betty White Show, before landing the lead in the sitcom Date with the Angels.
Love at Last
Following two short-lived marriages, White found true love with game show host Allen Ludden, whom she met while appearing as a guest on Password during the show's third week. "We felt like we knew each other," she told the Archive of American Television. After White refused several of Ludden's marriage proposals, he finally took to wearing an engagement ring around his neck until she accepted, and they wed on June 14, 1963. "I came to the point of regretting that year that I said no," she said of her "love affair" with her husband, who died just shy of their 18th anniversary in 1981.
A Lasting Friendship
"Betty is a good friend, a dear friend," the late Mary Tyler Moore said about her costar on her self-titled sitcom, which aired from 1970 to 1977. On the newsroom comedy, White played the man-hungry Sue Ann Nivens, a role that nabbed the comedienne her second and third Emmy Awards (her first was for Life with Elizabeth in 1952).
White was a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — memorably playing Jane to the host's Tarzan, as well as Eve to Carson's Adam and, most infamously, a woman on a date-gone-bad in which 500 gallons of water washed the couple off set.
The Golden Age
She put St. Olaf on the map! In 1985, White joined Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty for The Golden Girls, a ground-breaking sitcom about four retirees sharing a Miami home. Originally cast as man-hungry Blanche, White, at the urging of director Jay Sandrich, ended up swapping roles with McClanahan (who played a role similar to Rose on Maude) to avoid being typecast. "I thought at first, 'Well, what do I with Rose? I know Blanche. What do I do with Rose?' " White said. Turns out, she knew plenty: White and her costars all took home Emmys for their roles.
What a Croc!
Although she didn't sign up for another sitcom, the actress consistently worked long after Golden Girls ended in 1992. One memorable appearance? Her 1999 turn as a kooky, foul-mouthed crocodile-lover in the horror flick Lake Placid.
White and Sandra Bullock sparked up a friendship while filming the 2009 comedy The Proposal with Ryan Reynolds, and took the time to tease each other (very publicly). While paying homage to Bullock during the 2010 MTV Movie Awards, White joked, "Our sex scenes were cut for theatrical release, but don't worry, everyone can see them on the unrated DVD."
The Year of Betty
In 2010, Betty was back — in a big way. She kicked off her return on Feb. 7 during a Super Bowl commercial for Snickers, where a muddy, dirt-covered White was abused and tackled during a football game. "You're playing like Betty White out there!" snapped a friend, to which White replied, "That's not what your girlfriend said."
A Dream Come True
"My first ambition was to be a forest ranger, but back in those days girls weren't allowed to be forest rangers," the lifelong animal activist had said. Her early dream was realized on Nov. 9, 2010, when she was made an honorary forest ranger by the U.S. Forest Service. "In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official," she said.
Raunchy. Raucous. And oh, so good! After a grassroots Facebook campaign for the icon to host Saturday Night Live, White took the stage at 30 Rock — and nailed it. Among the instantly classic skits? A revival of Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon's NPR sketch, loaded with double entendres where White, as a baker, raved about her "dusty muffin." The audience loved it, and so did the pros: White won an Emmy for her appearance.
A New Decade
A week before her 90th birthday (she hit the milestone on Jan. 17, 2011), Hollywood celebrated with a TV special and massive party. But White's plans for her actual birthday were a lot more low-key. "I'm going to sit back home with my golden retriever Pontiac," she said. Enjoying the simple things — it was a fitting way for the icon to spend the day. As she once told PEOPLE, "You better realize how good life is while it's happening, because before you know it, it will all be gone."
Even at 92, White was still working hard, scoring laughs and ratings as a series regular in Hot in Cleveland and as host of senior prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. (She won two SAG Awards for the former and three Emmy nominations for the latter.) One of her most recent gigs was for PEOPLE, recreating the famous Pulp Fiction dance scene with pal Bob Newhart for the magazine's 40th anniversary issue.
Though she's been out of the spotlight recently, White was honored at the 2018 Emmy Awards for her long career in television — and received a touching standing ovation from the A-list crowd. “I’m just gonna quit while I’m ahead,” she joked. “It’s incredible you can stay in a career this long and still have people put up with you. I wish they did that at home.”