However, throughout her years on the screen, her role as Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” stands out as a bright spot on her dazzling resume.
The famed sitcom saw White star as one of four older women living together in Miami, facing the trials and tribulations of everyday life in their golden years. Rose was known for her big heart, her affinity for her Minnesota hometown and for being less than bright.
Across seven seasons and 177 episodes, here is a look at some of the actress’ funniest moments from the iconic comedy.
‘Brothers can’t marry sisters’
In a 1991 episode, Rose’s roommate Blanche receives a visit from her brother Clayton. Clayton comes to Miami to introduce his boyfriend, Doug, to Blanche and to announce their engagement.
“I wanted you to meet Doug for a very special reason,” Clayton tells his sister. “Blanche, we’re getting married.”
“That’s impossible, Clayton, brother’s can’t marry sisters,” Rose chimes in, assuming Clayton meant he planned to marry his sister. “Oh, that’s right, you’re from the South.”
‘His eyes will bug out’
In an attempt to offer up some advice to her friend Sophia, Rose once shared a “lesson” she learned as a young girl in St. Olaf, Minnesota.
“If you hold a bird gently, the bird will stay,” she said. “But if you squeeze the bird, his eyes will bug out.”
Sophia stared back with a deadpan expression.
“And Mr. Pet Shop Owner gets very huffy and won’t let you touch the birds anymore,” Rose continues. “And the mice? He won’t even let you in the room with the mice.”
“The Golden Girls” stars (left to right) Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo, Bea Arthur as Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak, Rue McClanahan as Blanche Devereaux and Betty White as Rose Nylund. (Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank)
‘St. Olaf Woman of the Year’
A 1988 episode of “Golden Girls” saw Rose become nominated for a prestigious award from her hometown, the St. Olaf Woman of the year. She described it as “the highest honor there is.”
“Last year, Gretchen Lillihammer won for running into the burning library and saving all the books,” Rose gushed. “She took two books in one hand and one in the other and ran like the Dickens.”
Her friends are shocked to learn that the St. Olaf library only has three books and ask what happens once someone has read all three.
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” says Rose.
‘Dead as a doornail’
When discussing mysterious illnesses with her pals, Rose recalled a man from St. Olaf who died after battling an unidentified ailment.
“Gustav Lungfish got sick from something mysterious and he nearly died. Well he did die in fact,” she said. “Then at the cemetery, Beatrice Lungfish, his wife, kept screaming, ‘He’s alive, he’s alive, I can hear him from the grave.'”
Rose said that the woman was sedated as everyone assumed her grief was causing hallucinations.
Betty White’s Rose Nylund was known for not been terribly bright. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
“But when she woke up from her sedation, she told them that he said from the grave: ‘We never paid our ’78 through ‘86 income taxes,'” she continued. “And his partner said, ‘Only Gustav would know that, he must be alive.’”
“So they all raced to the cemetery and the entire town started digging like crazy, kneeling by the grave, using their hands even, dirt flying, Beatrice screaming,” Rose said. “When they opened that coffin, there he was, dead as a doornail.”
When asked to explain her “ridiculous” story, Rose said: “The point is Gustav didn’t die from his mysterious disease at all, he lived and recovered. Trouble was, he recovered while he was buried, so by the time they got to him, he’d died of suffocation.”
‘I Like Lucy’
Late one evening, Rose invited Dorothy to sit with her and Blanche to watch a television show called “I Like Lucy.”
“‘I Love Lucy,'” Blanche corrected Rose.
“Well I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know how I feel about it,” Rose responds.