Betty White has died, just weeks before her 100th birthday TV favors the young — but Betty White only got more famous as she got older. White's career began in the earliest days of television, and she was active until her death at the age of 99.

Betty White, a beloved icon and actress since the beginning of TV, has died at age 99

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Betty White, one of America's most beloved television personalities, has died. She was 99. The news was shared in a statement from her agent published by People Magazine. Reporter Kyle Norris has this remembrance.

KYLE NORRIS, BYLINE: Betty White was on TV since the beginning of TV. And in an industry where it's often about being young and hot, White got more popular the older she got. She's best known for two characters. The first was Sue Ann Nivens from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." White calls the character, quote, "your sickeningly sweet neighborhood nymphomaniac." Here she is with Mary Tyler Moore complaining about an ambitious intern who's getting cozy with the boss.


BETTY WHITE: (As Sue Ann Nivens) Little Miss Muffet is after my job.

MARY TYLER MOORE: (As Mary Richards) Oh, come on, Sue Ann. Why does that have to follow? Let's assume that she is doing what you think she's doing. Why does that necessarily mean she's going to get your job?

WHITE: (As Sue Ann Nivens) How do you think I got it?


NORRIS: The other character she was known for was the naive Rose Nylund from the 1980s hit "The Golden Girls." Here's White with co-star Rue McClanahan.


RUE MCCLANAHAN: (As Blanche Devereaux) Well, it's not a lie. I'm just withholding the truth.

WHITE: (As Rose Nylund) Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to tell a fib.


NORRIS: White often played characters that seem innocent on the surface, but underneath was something mischievous, even sexual, going on. Here she was on a "Saturday Night Live" skit that makes fun of NPR. She's a guest on a radio show called "The Delicious Dish."


ANA GASTEYER: (As Margaret Jo McCullen) Florence, there's a tangy taste in this muffin. Is that a cherry?


WHITE: (As Florence) No, no. My muffin hasn't had a cherry since 1939.

NORRIS: White was like a maiden aunt who loved to cut loose and say something outrageous. That's what Barry Monush says. He's a researcher at the Paley Center for Media.

BARRY MONUSH: I mean, that's the type of relative - everybody loves relatives like that, you know, the aunt who comes over and speaks her mind, you know, and yet is sweet at the same time.

NORRIS: And White had been a part of the family, so to speak, for a long time. She was born an only child on January 17, 1922. Her family was big into outdoor activities like camping and hiking. Her parents also loved animals, and White has been a passionate animal advocate her whole life.

As a young woman, she got involved with local theater, radio and, eventually, the brand-new medium of television. White co-hosted a live variety show in LA in the 1940s for five hours a day. And in the 1950s, she helped create a sitcom called "Life With Elizabeth," in which she was the star and a producer.


JACK CLARK: Now here's your host on "Password," Allen Ludden.

NORRIS: Throughout her career, White had a constant side gig as the first lady of game shows.


WHITE: I love games, and I love game shows. I think it's good mental exercise. I think it keeps everybody kind of alert and kind of on his toes.

NORRIS: She was on shows like "What's My Line?," "Password," "The Match Game" and "Pyramid."


DICK CLARK: For $10,000, here is your first subject coming up just a second.

NORRIS: Here she is with host Dick Clark on "Pyramid."


WHITE: The drain, the stopper.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Things in a sink, things in a tub.

NORRIS: White was charming and funny. She was a good improviser. She even found love on the game show circuit. She married the man who hosted the game show "Password," Allen Ludden.

Getting older was good for White's career. She got her role on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" at the age of 51. She was on "Golden Girls" from ages 63 to 70, and she really never stopped from there, doing TV shows, sitcoms, movies, commercials and live celebrity appearances.

Toward the end of her life, you could say she cashed in big time on another role - the role of Betty White. She was in her late 80s when she did a commercial for Snickers during the 2010 Super Bowl. In it, Betty White is playing some rough-and-tumble football with the guys.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hut.

NORRIS: White is a mess on the field. She misses a throw and then gets nailed by an opponent.


BERT BELASCO: (As character) Mike, what is your deal, man?

WHITE: (As Mike) Oh, come on, man. You've been riding me all day.

BELASCO: (As character) Mike, you're playing like Betty White out there.

WHITE: (As Mike) That's not what your girlfriend says.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Baby.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Whoa, whoa, whoa.

NORRIS: That commercial launched a more recent success, and it showed that people of all ages seemed to be wild about White. In fact, she got that gig hosting "Saturday Night Live" because of her younger fans, who launched a Facebook campaign to get her to host. Researcher Barry Monush says White had this certain coolness factor.

MONUSH: There's just something about her where people are on her side. And they love that she's, you know, in there kicking at 90 years old.

NORRIS: But that long career had its downside. She had been a widow since her husband's death in 1981, and she outlived many of the people she knew and loved. Here she was on "Inside The Actors Studio" in 2010. She was pretty choked up when she mentioned the other three Golden Girls, who have all died.


WHITE: You lop three members of your family off, and you just - you never get over it.

NORRIS: Despite the sadness of surviving many of the people in her inner circle, White almost always kept things funny and upbeat. In her autobiography, White wrote that humor is all about rhythm. And Betty White had outstanding timing in her individual performances and with her entire career that helped her roll with the punches throughout the decades, making her popular and well-loved in her 20s all the way until the later decades of her life.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris.

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