Notable Deaths in 2021

59 21/07/2022

A look back at the esteemed personalities who left us this year, who'd touched us with their innovation, creativity and humanity.

By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan. The Associated Press contributed to this gallery.


For generations, the actress, comedian and television presenter Betty White (January 17, 1922-December 31, 2021) was one of TV's most familiar and beloved faces, often hilariously playing against the sweet image of her smiling eyes and dimpled cheeks on the series "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Golden Girls."

Notable Deaths in 2021

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised in California during the Great Depression, White performed on radio and for an experimental TV station in Los Angeles in the 1930s. After the war, when she served as a member of the American Women's Voluntary Services, she began hosting a live variety show, "Hollywood on Television," in 1949. In the '50s she starred in the sitcom "Life With Elizabeth," and her own talk program, "The Betty White Show."

She was a welcome presence throughout the '60s on such game shows as "To Tell the Truth," "What's My Line?," "Liar's Club," "It Takes Two," and "Password," where she met her husband, host Allen Ludden.

During the fourth season of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," one script described a character, Sue Ann Nivens, as "a sickeningly sweet Betty White type." Sweet – as well as scheming, conniving, and laughably lustful. White played the part hilariously, and became a fixture of the series, winning two of her five Emmy Awards for the role.

"She was the neighborhood nymphomaniac," White told "Sunday Morning" in 2011. "And they'd ask my husband, Allen Ludden, they'd ask, 'How close to Betty is Sue Ann?' He said, 'Well, they're the same, except Betty can't cook, of course.'"

She followed that series with "The Golden Girls," playing the sweet, naïve Rose Nylund, and winning a third Emmy.

A self-proclaimed workaholic, White continued making numerous guest appearances on shows, in addition to authoring more than a half-dozen books, and raising money for animal causes. She wrote, produced and hosted a syndicated TV show, "The Pet Set."

But by 2010, when she appeared in a Snickers candy bar commercial, White became America's senior citizen sweetheart – a sweet old lady with a hip, naughty side, and a penchant for bawdy humor. At age 88 she became the oldest guest host of "Saturday Night Live" following a social media campaign targeting the show's producers; and she was invited onto the pilot of the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" – and ended up staying through 124 episodes. She was voted Entertainer of the Year by The Associated Press.

She was also a role model for how to grow old joyously. "Don't try to be young," she told The AP. "Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won't live long enough to find out about, but I'm still curious about them."

Despite the loss of many people close to her, White told "Sunday Morning" she wasn't afraid of death herself. "Not at all. My mother had the most wonderful outlook on death. She would always say, 'Nobody knows. People think they do, you can believe whatever you want to believe what happens at that last moment, but nobody ever knows until it happens.' But, she said, it's a secret. So, all growing up, whenever we'd lose somebody, she'd always say, 'Now, they know the secret.'"

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