Joe Biden Mourns Betty White: “She Was A Lovely Lady”

UPDATED, with additional comments: President Joe Biden addressed the death of Betty White in speaking to reporters on Friday, reflecting the national impact her passing has had on the culture.

“That’s a shame. She was a lovely lady,” Biden said.

First Lady Jill Biden said, “Who didn’t love Betty White? We’re so sad.”

Later, the president tweeted, “Betty White brought a smile to the lips of generations of Americans. She’s a cultural icon who will be sorely missed. Jill and I are thinking of her family and all those who loved her this New Year’s Eve.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Today, we lost a beloved TV icon. Betty White was a pioneering actress, who blessed generations of Americans with her talent and humor for 8 decades.  May it be a comfort to her loved ones and many admirers that so many mourn with them during this sad time.”

All the major news networks covered her passing, and NBC News broke into regular programming for a special report.

White was 99, just weeks why of her 100th birthday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted that White was “an icon and a TV legend.”

The U.S. Army issued a statement in which it said, “We are saddened by the passing of Betty White. Not only was she an amazing actress, she also served during WWII as a member of the American Women’s Voluntary Services. A true legend on and off the screen.”

White generally stayed out of the political fray, steering her activism to causes like animal welfare. But with a career that stretched back to the earliest, experimental days of television, she was considered a pioneer of the medium who forged a groundbeaking career for women in the industry.

In her book When Women Invented Television, Jennifer Keishin Armstrong wrote that White “hosted one of the first daytime talk shows and had to improvise on camera for five and a half hours a day, six days a week, with no writers to help.” Armstrong credited White, with her charisma and charm, with helping to invent the daytime talk show, starting in 1949 with the local Los Angeles series Hollywood on Television. She eventually became its sole host, and then starred and co-produced a sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, based on one of its sketches.

“It’s time that we remember Betty White as more than the sassy old lady who’s still got it — she was also one of television’s first female producers and a foundational contributor to the medium who fought patriarchal expectations at every turn,” Armstrong wrote.

White also took a stand against efforts to cave to prejudices, as happened in 1954, when she was hosting Hollywood on Television. Some southern TV stations demanded that a Black dancer, Arthur Duncan, be removed from the cast of the show. White, and the network, refused. “I’m sorry. Live with it,” she said. She noted in her autobiography, “I was livid — this was 1954, for heaven’s sake! I wanted to tell them what to do with their stations, but wiser heads prevailed.” The stations continued to carry the show “without another word on the subject.”

White had a role in the 1962 political drama Advise & Consent, a classic that went on to be shown in social studies classes, in which she played a character said to be based on Margaret Chase Smith.

In 2012, at age 90, White visited President Barack Obama at the White House, met the First Family’s dog Bo and even taped a video. White endorsed Obama for reelection that year, even as she cautioned that she usually didn’t go public with her political views.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted, “Betty White broke barriers, defied expectations, served her country, and pushed us all to laugh. Barack and I join so many around the world who will miss the joy she brought to the world. I know our Bo is looking forward to seeing her up in heaven.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote, “Betty White leaves a monumental legacy on and off stage, with humor and humanity that touched lives everywhere and made an enormous impact on the life of our city. Her career in Hollywood blessed us with warm memories that will always live in our hearts. The City of L.A. will be forever grateful for her years of service to the L.A. Zoo on behalf of the animals in our care and the people who love them. My thoughts are with all who love a woman who brought immeasurable joy as an entertainer, advocate, and friend.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement, “Betty White was a trailblazer and easily one of the most beloved figures in television. She was a beacon of hope throughout her career, bringing joy and humor to everything she did. She shared her talents with the world and her spark will live on, inspiring generations to come.”