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Betty White, one of the most endearing and enduring faces on television, dies at 99

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By Adam Bernstein

Betty White, an Emmy Award-winning comic actress who was best known for playing a man-hungry TV hostess on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s and a ditzy widow on “The Golden Girls” in the 1980s before her late-in-life resurgence as a tough, funny and ribald old lady, died during the night of Dec. 30-31 at her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. She was 99.

The death was confirmed by her friend and agent, Jeff Witjas. No cause was cited.

In a career spanning seven decades, Ms. White became one of the most endearing and enduring faces on television. She said that her late husband, veteran game show host Allen Ludden, used to joke, “Meet my wife, one of the pioneers in silent television.”

He was not far off. She appeared on an experimental TV transmission in 1939 and later became a stalwart of domestic comedies, game shows, talk shows, anthology series, soap operas and made-for-television movies. Her trademark was a disarming, dimple-cheeked wholesomeness — her very name conjured girl-next-door appeal — but her impeccable comic timing knew vast range, from genteel innocence to stiletto-like bite.

In 2010, she starred in a Snickers candy bar commercial that aired during the Super Bowl — she was shown being tackled on muddy turf while playing football. That led to a massive Internet outcry for her to host “Saturday Night Live,” for which she received an Emmy Award for best guest actress in a comedy series.

She remained an incorrigible presence on television sitcoms and talk shows, often portraying herself as a seemingly demure old woman who suddenly detours into a ribald punchline. When talk-show host David Letterman asked how she spent her time, she rambled on about her love of animals before noting that “vodka’s kind of a hobby.”

Most recently, she had a recurring role on the TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” and hosted a hidden-camera, practical-joke show called “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” which featured senior citizens pranking people young enough to be their grandchildren.

Asked in 2012 about the devoted following that suddenly sprang up around her, she explained to an Australian newspaper, “I think when I turned 90, it somehow fascinated people that I was still working. I’m very grateful that they still invite me to do things, but it comes as much as a surprise to me as it does to them.”

Ms. White first made an impression on critics and audiences in her starring role on the suburban sitcom “Life With Elizabeth,” which aired from 1953 to 1955. New York Times television critic Jack Gould called Ms. White a talented and “immensely personable” actress with an “intuitive feel for farce.”

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