The Life and Legacy of the Great Betty White

Erin Shetler

The iconic Betty White, best known for her unapologetic sass and role of Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls, passed away on December 31, 2021, at age 99. She had passed peacefully in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles, California, just a few weeks before her 100th birthday Although White is gone, her legacy will survive long after her death.


“If you have one good series, you know, it’s a blessing. Two good series is unusual. Three is, where do you get privileges like that? I tasted every minute.”

White holds the Guinness World Record of the longest TV career by a woman entertainer. She began her long-lived career at age 17 when she was part of an experimental transmission in Los Angeles. Following that, she quickly became one of TV’s most popular stars. White’s first big break was her role as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s. The role earned her two of her eventual five Emmys. Her next big project (the one that would make Betty White a household name) was The Golden Girls. The show centered around four older women who were all roommates. First airing on September 14, 1985, and continuing until its finale on May 9, 1992, the show was a hit. White played the spacey yet loveable Rose Nylund for a total of 204 episodes, including the spin-off series The Golden Palace. With a total of over 120 acting credits, Betty White has cemented her name in the world of television.


“I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”

Throughout her life, Betty White has stood up against racism and supported the LGBT+ community. In the 1950s, White was producing her own show Life with Elizabeth. The executives wanted to fire Arthur Duncan, a Black tap dancer, because of his race. Not only did she ignore them, but she gave Duncan more air time, telling the executives to “deal with it”. Although the show was canceled soon after, White still never gave in to what she didn’t believe was right. In The Golden Girls, she also tackled the stigma surrounding AIDS as its epidemic reached a  high. In the episode “72 Hours”, her character, Rose, might have been exposed to blood with HIV. This marked one of the first times that a sitcom mentioned and centered a storyline around HIV and AIDS.


“I learned it from my animal friends. Kindness and consideration of somebody besides yourself. I think that keeps you feeling young. I really do.”

Betty White, although best known for her life on the silver screen, contributed much of her time and wealth to improving the lives of animals. Growing up, she and her parents would take care of pets whose owners were burdened by the hardships of the Great Depression. She would dedicate her life to continue helping all the creatures of the world, not just at-home pets. In an interview with Good Morning America, she says, “I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal business.”

In the 1970s, White created a TV series “The Pet Set” where she would meet a celebrity, and most importantly, their pet. In 2006, the then-mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, dubbed her “Ambassador to the Animals” for her work with local zoos and animal shelters. Three years later, she was the recipient of the Jane Goodall Institute Global Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement. White often visited the L.A. Zoo, donating empty toilet paper tubes needed for games with the animals. There she would also see Elka, an orangutan named for her character on Hot in Cleveland, and visit her late husband’s, Allen Ludden’s, plaque. She began the Betty White Wildlife Rapid Response Fund, now called the Betty White Wildlife Fund, which continues to help animals who are affected by natural disasters (like the 2020 fires in Australia). Betty White made huge donations to foundations that trained guide dogs. She would also adopt Pontiac, a friendly “career change” guide dog, often easily distracted with everybody that he met. She is the longest supporter of the American Humane, involved for nearly half of the time the program existed.


“It’s your outlook on life that counts. If you take yourself lightly and don’t take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you can find humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes it can be a lifesaver.”

The impact that Betty White had on the world will never be forgotten. Although she was six years older than sliced bread, she proved that old age is just an excuse for inaction in the world. On what would be her 100th birthday (January 17, 2022), millions of dollars were donated in her name to animal foundations. White was, and still is, a hero to many people around the world. Rest in peace.