It was announce the Betty White died and I am devastated.
It would be easy to dismiss the above sentence as hyperbole. "How could you be devastated over somebody you never knew?" And I'm sure many people would say I'm a "psycho" or a "baby" or whatever put-downs are currently in vogue to describe people who have emotions.
But I did know Betty White. I've been getting to know her most of my life.
And, as I'm fond of saying, "I loved Betty White before it was cool."
I first became aware of Betty White on game shows (something I watched a lot of in my early years). Whether it was Match Game or Password or Hollywood Squares, Betty would show up and be the funniest person in the room. And the smartest. And the sweetest. I was captivated immediately.
Then our town got cable television.
This brought about dozens of channels made up of nothing but reruns, which is how I started watching Betty's character "Sue Ann Niven" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was about as delicious role for a supporting character there could be, and Betty went for it with gusto. Eventually I struck gold with reruns of The Betty White Show. Suddenly it was all Betty all the time for me. Because in addition to the reruns, she was also popping up on The Love Boat or Mama's Family or talk shows or game shows or celebrity roasts. And so many guest appearances on dozens of shows (she was on Who's the Boss, for heavens sake). She never went away. She was always somewhere on my television.
Then 1985 happened...
If I didn't already love Betty White, the debut of the mega-hit The Golden Girls would have sealed the deal. As it did for most of the country, I'm guessing. Rose Nylund was one of the most unforgettable characters to ever appear on television, and Betty knew exactly how to play it. Her monologues about life growing up St. Olaf were hilarious and delivered as only she could do it.
Betty's renewed popularity was not wasted. She was in constant rotation on the late night talk shows being her hysterical charming self (Craig Ferguson must have been a favorite because she was one of his most popular guests, and she was joyous when she'd drop by). She was in commercials, naturally, (her most famous being that classic Snickers Super Bowl commercial). And, as people found out about my love for all things Betty, they'd send me videos and tapes and DVDs and magazine articles and such. My life was a constant parade of everything Betty, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
But her celebrity was also used to advance human rights... including her staunch support of the LGBTQ community and equality for all persons. But she was likely most famous for her charity work on behalf of animals, and her surge in popularity was a big opportunity for her to become even more visible in supporting them. Plus she started appearing in even more TV shows (like Bob and Boston Legal) and movies (like her expectation-crushing turn on Lake Placid which cemented her legendary status). She never stopped. Her Saturday Night Live guest hosting gig is widely viewed as one of the best to ever appear on the show. And even when it was too difficult for her to act, she was still charming us with her voice, showing up animated shows that culminated in Toy Story 4 where she played "Bitey White." And of course I've read her books. Her memoir If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) is essential reading for any Betty fan.
So, yeah... unless she had a secret life of kicking puppies (which, let's be honest, is something Betty White would never, ever, do)... I know the woman. And she's so worth knowing, as this small sampling of her best moments will attest...
That's a mere 20 moments. But let's face it... ALL of her moments were best moments.
I am not one for celebrity culture (unless I'm mocking it) or hero worship (with the exception of Steve Jobs, who will always be my hero and left us ten years ago). I see famous people as just people. People who do things that benefit or harm us. People who entertain or annoy us. People who have a voice that's louder than most of us, but likely less important because of the bubble in which they live.
But all that went out the window with Betty White. I adored her as much as any other important person in my life. She was a constant source of light and laughter, and will continue to be with me every time I pass by the infinite loop of Golden Girls reruns while channel surfing... or something she said pops into my head... or one of her many hilarious performances flashes across my brain... or any other time her legacy is remembered by the world.
Which I'm guessing will be a lot.
Because the only thing that can fill the void left by Betty White is Betty White.
Fortunately there's plenty of that to be had. She was in the business for 76 years and, with so many people loving her work, it ain't going away any time soon.