10 Things Betty White Taught Me About Life.
Because she lived her best life and I want to be just like her.
started this piece last year on New Year’s Day — the day after Betty White died — but never finished it because it broke my heart to talk about her in the past tense. But in honor of what would have been birthday 101 for her this week, I thought it was a good time to share it in celebration of her life.
Like most of my generation, I first became acquainted with Betty when she played Rose Nylund the down-home, slightly backwards and a lot ditzy but super sweet old-young girl from Saint Olaf, Minnesota on Golden Girls. I was a little girl of 8 years old, but I loved that show and she was my favorite part of it with all of her silly, ridiculous, nonsensical and unknowingly witty remarks.
I had no idea at the time that she’d been on anything else on television. She was brand new to me. But she’s seemingly been on almost everything since, movies, television, commercials. She was everywhere for a while. Aside from Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland, I really loved her cameo’s, some of my favorites were on: Bones, Community, The Middle, That 70’s Show, Malcolm in the Middle, SpongeBob, The Wild Thornberry’s and even The Simpsons.
My spirit was crushed last year when I heard that she passed just a few weeks shy of her hundredth birthday. I didn’t know her, though I would have loved to or at least to have met her once (I’ve had “Eat cheesecake with Betty White” on my bucket list for about fifteen years now). It felt irrational to be so heartbroken by the death of someone that I’ve never even met. It’s very much the same way that I felt when Robin Williams died or just recently when Leslie Jordan passed. These are the only celebrities whose deaths have caused such a deeply expressive grief within me that I actually cried. But they were important to me because they touched my heart and my life. And whether I knew them personally or not didn’t really matter, when someone touches your heart that deeply, their loss comes with a lot of emotion. And to me, like so many others, Betty White was always a reliable, funny, sassy and heartwarmingly charming friend. And also a gentler version of my own feisty grandmother who just celebrated her 89th birthday.
Last year my focus was on how unfair it was that a person can live an extremely long lifetime, be right at the end of 99 years and die just short of their 100th birthday. What a bullshit twist of fate to have that ultimate achievement ripped out from under you at the last second. It’s kind of like the ultimate middle finger from the universe. I can’t help but feel that she would laugh at the irony of it though, dying two weeks before her 100th birthday and dying on the very last day of the year. She quite literally closed the show. I like to imagine her shouting, “I’m outta here suckers!” in her very last breath. Because that’s the kind of perfect comedic timing she had.
But I can’t hold on to the sadness that I felt because that’s not who Betty was. She was known for her optimism and positivity. Even cutting remarks were delivered in the classic, comedic and cheerfully grinning style that were her trademark. She brought joy to everyone’s life and she left just as much of that joy behind in her absence.
Betty did everything. I can’t think of anyone who’s lived a more complete life, and on their own terms than she did. And I want to be just like her. How can I do that? By following her example and advice of course.
1. On getting older: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Some of my favorite Betty moments were when she was poking fun at her age. She did it as a hangry football player in a Snickers commercial and in one of my absolute favorites when she hosted Saturday Night Live and did the Dusty Muffin skit poking fun at her own old and dusty “muffin”.
2. On kindness: When Betty was asked what kept her feeling young, she responded, “Kindness and consideration of somebody besides yourself.” It’s no secret that she was known for her kindness to what she called her “animal friends”, but part of that kindness was being an activist, though she didn’t seem to see herself that way. Standing up for others whether animals, other women, the LGBTQ+ community or people of color was just being human and kind in her eyes. There was nothing particularly special about it.
3. On being healthy: It was pretty well known that Betty wasn’t a health nut, she enjoyed vodka and hot dogs “in that order” and avoided things like “wheatgrass, soy paste and carob” and advised others to toss them “in the garbage and cook yourself a big-ass piece of pork.” And she didn’t have an exercise routine other than going up and down the stairs in her home. Needless to say though, she acknowledged that they keys to staying healthy are treating yourself and staying active, the latter of course being something that she really was. How many 99-year-olds work until the day they die?
4. On being hot: Age was just a number to Betty and she demonstrated that belief in her life everyday, but especially in her song/video I’m Still Hot with Luciana 10 years ago.
5. On problems: Cheesecake and good friends can solve any problem. Okay, maybe I’m making that one up, she may never have said it, but that’s what I got out of her time on Golden Girls and I’m keeping it.
6. On being a bad-ass: Betty didn’t put up with anyone’s shit and she was unapologetic about it. She wouldn’t allow anyone to dictate what she did, including her first husband who wanted her to quit show business or the multitude of people who threatened to boycott her show because she featured tap dancer Arthur Duncan who was black. Her response to the latter, “Live with it.” Her attitude was, “Do what you want and screw anyone who doesn’t like it.”
7. On growing older: To Betty, getting older didn’t mean sitting around and waiting to die. Age was just a number. She kept doing. Everything. Until the very end. Even telling Tracy Jordan on an episode of 30 Rock that she would “bury him”.
8. On opportunities: Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given and create your own. She may never have said that, but that’s what she modeled in every part of her life.
9. On happiness: “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Enough said.
10. On love: “Don’t waste time when you could be loving someone.” I can’t remember when she said that, but that’s the quote that stuck with me the most. We have so little time in this world and we really should be using it to love.
Are you a Betty White fan? How did her work impact your life? In your opinion, what were some of her best quotes and moments?