Betty White: The Loss of a Pop Culture Icon


Alan Light/Creative Commons Attribution

The famed actress, Betty White, at the 1988 Emmy Awards.

Abigail Stookey, Writer

The 1950s were arguably the beginning of modern pop culture when media finally began to become something we would recognize today, for better or for worse.  This was when shows like I Love Lucy were on the air, and when Elvis Presley was first surging onto the stage of public consciousness.  This was the dawn of superstars, of the forefathers of the music and movies we know and love today.  There had been those who had come before them, those who would come after, but there is still so much we owe to this decade alone.

Betty White began her career among such pioneers of early pop culture, even if she was not one of the greats of the decade.  That would come later, and it was something she most certainly earned.  She began her career on radio shows, later appearing on the TV show Hollywood on Television in 1949.  She would go on to co-create and star in the 1953-1955 sitcom Life with Elizabeth and would continue being a popular name in various sitcoms over the next few decades.  However, her true stardom comes from the 1985-1992 The Golden Girls, a role that would truly cement her as a face of American sitcoms.

The actress was well known for her humor, talent, and tenacity.  She came off as authentic, happy to speak her mind, and people loved her for it, well beyond the roles that fill so many with nostalgia now.  Her spirit never seemed to age, taking years with bright optimism and comedic talent that never failed.  That was what truly carried her to popularity, proving that despite the fact she hadn’t been front and center at the beginning of her career—alongside those pioneers of modern culture—she will go down in history, no less of a pop culture icon.

On December 31, 2021—with her hundredth birthday celebrations ready to go and the other side of the century awaiting for her—Betty White died peacefully in her sleep.  A stroke nearly a week before had taken its toll, but she was thankfully in her own home when it took her.  On New Years Day the news of her death was so recent that theaters were still playing trailers for her hundredth birthday celebrations, and people were still accepting that the news of her death wasn’t fake.  We truly had lost not only a star who’d helped shape our humor and culture but a beacon of optimism in the world at large.