Fans worldwide celebrated Betty White‘s birthday yesterday, and the festivities ranged from TV and movie marathons at home to vodka and hot dog dinner parties with friends. Another celebration happened for White in the form of a movie event that was supposed to be a 100th birthday party. After White’s passing on Dec. 31, it soon became a tribute ceremony for the star.
As fans poured into theaters around the country, they undoubtedly felt mixed emotions. It’s impossible to watch anything with White without feeling an immense sense of joy and happiness, but today things felt a little different. The celebration turned tribute meant that our golden girl wasn’t still here with us.
Talking to THR, producer Steve Boettcher said the news of her passing left those who knew white shell-shocked.
“We were just shell-shocked. I think with her so close to 100 — it was just a gutshot for all of us.”
The news left all of us feeling heartbroken, which says a lot about the heart of who White was. Even at age 99, we all wanted more time with her; we hoped for more laughter and longed for another character to adore. Luckily, we all have the gift of White’s contribution to entertainment to look back on via her several television series and films.
In the moments leading up to the film debut, pages from White’s “scrapbook” were playing on a loop with notes and messages from White about her own life. Fans got a behind-the-scenes look at her life and stories of growing up with her family, her love of animals, and her thoughts on her career.
Betty White: A Celebration began with a special message from White herself, taped just days before she passed away.
Boettcher described the moment White filmed the message in the same interview with THR. Noting that White loved getting ‘glammed up’ — the message was essential to her to film as she didn’t ever let a moment pass without letting those around her know that she was grateful for them.
“It was Dec. 20, in her home. Betty loved getting glammed up, as she called it. The dress, the hair, the look — she just loved that. It’s probably about a minute or two long clip of just her looking directly in the camera as the graciously fun, warm Betty. She thanks all her fans over the years and for being out on the 17th to see the film. It’s just got that twinkle that’s Betty. The great thing about it is that she didn’t read it off the teleprompter or have a script. She ad-libbed it, and that’s Betty to the very end. She’s spontaneous and has the wherewithal to go with it and do it live. She was so good at that. You can’t watch it for the first time and help but get goosebumps when you hear her. It’s just very, very sweet.”
It goes without saying that the message left audiences in tears, but it was also a heartwarming way to kick off a tribute to our beloved White. She wanted to share gratitude and love with her fans; she spent the first minute of her celebration thanking fans for sticking with her for so long.
“Thank you, I just wanted to thank you for coming to my party and I also want to thank you for all the support you give me. Thank you so much, and onward and upward.” Betty finished the message with a sweet giggle and a smile.
White’s executive assistant shared a photo from the day of the message, and while the sweet note from Betty is something only audiences of the celebratory event will hear, it’s a special surprise for her fans to see her all “glammed up” and enjoying life just weeks ago.
As fans wiped their tears, some of White’s co-stars and friends began sharing their adoration and love for the superstar, who never realized just how massive her impact on the world truly was. Ryan Reynolds laughed and shared how much he enjoyed the saucy side of her humor and noted that he didn’t want to imagine a world where White wasn’t around any longer.
As the interviews were taped before her passing, several other friends shared the same sentiments and teared up at the mere idea of existing in a world without her. We’ve not known a world without her, and it still feels weird to be experiencing it now. When asked how they hoped to remember White, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Valerie Bertinelli, and Mikelas all shared words like kindness and generosity in speaking on her legacy.
White previously shared with those close to her that she felt accessible because she’d had a more intimate relationship with fans. She’d been in their homes; she’d been with them in their day-to-day lives; it was a relationship she felt blessed to have, although fans will continue to feel like the lucky ones.
The wonderful thing about this celebration was that White narrated so much of it herself, it wasn’t a story told through people who’d met White once or twice; it was the life and love story of White told from her own perspective and those who knew her and loved her so deeply.
On the topic of love, her romance with Allen Ludden was obviously highlighted, and she still spoke with so much adoration in her voice when recalling their life together. Ludden passed away in 1981, and she spent the latter half of her life without him physically, but he was never far away from her in love and spirit.
White also shared snippets of her life with animals, including her sweet dog Bandit. Long-time fans of white know that she had a production company called Bandy Productions, named after her sweet Pekingese named Bandit. Betty White: A Celebration shared a photo of White and Bandit after the film’s opening with the year of her birth and of her passing.
Fans saw clips from the best of White in all of her previous roles. Sue Ann Nivens and her cheeky personality were a focus of the celebration film, and audiences laughed as White executed the character so well. Nivens was quite obsessed with men, and it was the reason White was initially looked at for the role of Blanche in The Golden Girls. However, White wanted to play a different role, so she learned more about Rose Nylund. As she brought the character to life, fans couldn’t have imagined another person more poised to play her golden personality.
White has shared in several interviews that she loves being known for playing Rose, and it makes sense that the character means so much to her. A kind woman who loved animals and brought those around her a sense of joy and laughter; it’s all reminiscent of how White lived her life. White’s friends continued to comment on their adoration of White as the film went on. As clips were shown of White surrounded by animals, including her pal Bam Bam, the brown bear, her pals still highlighted her sweet spirit.
White’s advocacy for animals, standing up for Arthur Duncan, and even her feisty side as a board game player reminded us that when we became fans of White, we found an idol who was so honestly and beautifully wonderful. No one had a bad thing to say about White, and much like her character Rose, there wasn’t a bad bone in White’s body.
The celebration began wrapping up as more comments on longevity and White’s life were shared, and a beautiful song started playing in the background. As a clip of White singing in her early career days played, a newer version of the same song being sung by White played next to it. White’s voice had changed, more profound and more full of love and life, and audiences once again cried in awe of her talent.
“Nevertheless, I’m in love with you,” White sang as the celebration ended. Audiences were then treated to a lost episode of Date with the Angels that brought us back from tears and greeted us with laughter.
As we continue to honor White, it’s essential to find positivity in each day and treat those around us with the kindness and the love that White gave so freely. Be it with people or animals; we’re all better off for sharing kindness and laughter.
As always, White gets five stars in everything she does, and while this tribute brought audiences to tears, it was a lovely look at the life and career of a woman we all loved as one of our own. Betty White has been called America's grandmother, and it's safe to say that sentiment is shared with fans around the globe.