Betty White's final EW interview: Ahead of her 100th, the star shared her bucket list and advice to 'taste every moment'
She was America's sweetheart. America's Grandma, even. A television pioneer who entertained first on radio, then for hours daily in the early days of live television, and eventually on countless sitcoms — The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Golden Girls, Hot in Cleveland — and in some memorable movie roles — Lake Placid, The Proposal, You Again. Betty White lit up any screen she graced and humbly endeared herself to a world of adoring fans.
For months — years, really — I had been working on doing something big with White for EW ... anything to hear untold stories from of one of the world's most beloved entertainers. There was talk at one time of opening up a "Betty White Time Capsule" via her personal photos, scripts, memorabilia, and the like. Or perhaps a big anniversary piece in fall 2020 to celebrate the 10th of Cleveland, 35th of Golden Girls, and 50th of Mary. Maybe a slumber party of sorts where we'd watch her favorite episode of those shows. Various things prevented each from happening; then, the pandemic struck and we weren't able to be with her. "Operation Protect Betty White" was in full effect — and rightfully so.
With her 100th birthday approaching, on Jan. 17, 2022, EW was planning a digital cover story celebrating her remarkable life and career. For that, White's longtime agent and friend Jeff Witjas relayed questions on our behalf, some of our own and from some of her former costars — Jean Smart (Bringing Down the House, Hot in Cleveland), Jennifer Love Hewitt (The Lost Valentine, Hot in Cleveland, The Client List), and Jamie Lee Curtis (You Again, Match Game).
Below, White looks back on career accolades, her beloved pets, advice she'd give her younger (80-year-old) self, even hot dogs — and even at nearly 100 years old, there's no denying the Betty we all loved still had it.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What's left on your bucket list?
BETTY WHITE: Robert Redford.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You are considered a legend and icon by people everywhere, and many actresses look to you as a career inspiration. Who was that person for you?
Boy have I got them fooled. For me it was Jeannette MacDonald. Because… Jeanette MacDonald.
JEAN SMART: I feel privileged to have been able to work with you twice and each time you were a pro; classy, generous, hilarious, and as lovable as Man's Best Friend. We know how much you love all dogs but if you could be one breed of dog what would it be?
I don't just love all dogs, I love all animals! But in terms of dogs, though it's hard to pick just one, I've always been fond of Pekingnese because of my dear Bandit.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If you could go back and give your 80-year-old self advice, what would it be?
I wouldn't dare give myself advice — I'm too old! But seriously, the advice I'd give anyone at any age: Taste every moment. Don't take anything for granted.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Of your many Emmy wins, which one means the most to you?
The first one — because of just that. But really, I shouldn't single out any because each one is special. [EDITOR'S NOTE: White's first Emmy nomination was in 1951 for her very first sitcom, Life With Elizabeth.]
JAMIE LEE CURTIS: What is your favorite color of rose?
Oh, well, flowers!!! I love all flowers. My beloved husband [Allen Ludden] was quite the gardener and planted roses in our backyard — all different colors. Any rose from my garden is my favorite.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If you could turn back time and do one more episode of a show you starred on, which would it be?
The Pet Set… for obvious reasons — I love animals.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's no secret that hot dogs are one of your favorite foods. How many would you estimate you've eaten in your lifetime, and what's your preferred method of cooking them?
I couldn't begin to count. I just like them plain. With nothing at all.
JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT: What's one thing we would be surprised to know about you?
After all my years in show biz, I don't think there's anything that people don't know!!!!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If you could have your favorite drink — vodka on the rocks — right now with anyone, who would it be?
In addition to her long career in entertainment, White was a pet enthusiast and animal advocate, working closely through the years with various animal organizations over the years, including the Los Angeles Zoo, the Los Angeles ASPCA, and the Morris Animal Foundation, where she had served as president emeritus since 2009.