Betty white, at 91-years-young, is more active than some people half her age. She stars in TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, hosts NBC’s Off Their Rockers, and still works tirelessly to improve the health and welfare of animals through organizations like the Los Angeles Zoo and the Morris Animal Foundation.
The secret to her boundless energy? “I love what I do,” the Illinois native says. “When you’re fortunate enough to love what you do for a living, it takes you a long, long way. If I were to sit around and rest, I might just lose all that energy.”
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America’s sweetheart for her roles on Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Betty has been widowed since her husband, TV game show host Allen Ludden, died in 1981. Her career gained new life with her scene-stealing performance in The Proposal opposite Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in 2009, and her appearance in a breakout Super Bowl commercial for Snickers in 2010. A grassroots social media campaign led to a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live later that year, gaining Betty a whole new generation of fans.
In this exclusive interview, Betty talks about the importance of staying active, her belief that pets are a positive influence on our health, and more.
Spry: Your show, Off Their Rockers, pokes fun at stereotypes about aging. Why should we rethink our ideas about seniors?
Betty: Seniors are staying so much more relevant and so much more hip, if you will. Thinking of them as just fading away is no longer as right as it used to be. We’re living longer. We’re living healthier and staying much more aware.
Spry: Have you ever encountered prejudice because of your age?
Betty: No—neither age nor gender. I started in this business in 1949 [on the variety show Holiday on Television], doing five and a half hours a day, 6 days a week live, and producing the show. In those days, we didn’t even think about gender. If there was a job to do, whoever was there did it. But now, it’s, “Oh, my God! Women are doing this and women are doing that …” It’s much more of an issue now than it was back then.
Spry: What’s your advice for seniors who feel they’ve been disparaged because of their age?
Betty: The more relevant they can stay and the more mental exercise they do … I do crossword puzzles, not only because I love doing them, but because it’s mental exercise. Don’t let your mind atrophy. I think staying interested and curious about things is very important.
Spry: You’re 91. What’s your secret to a long, healthy life?
Betty: I’m blessed with good health; that’s the bottom line. A lot of people at 91 don’t feel as good as I do. I’ve got a two-story house and a very bad memory, so that’s my exercise: I keep going up and down the stairs because I forget things. I don’t have a routine-—it’s just taking care of yourself, not abusing yourself. My diet is not what you might call the healthiest— hot dogs and French fries are my favorite foods. I’m blessed, is what I am. How lucky can one old broad get?
Spry: At this point in your life, how do you decide which projects are worth doing and which ones to pass on?
Betty: I’m on the board of the Los Angeles Zoo, and that takes up quite a bit of time. I’m president emeritus of the Morris Animal Foundation, an animal health organization. That takes up quite a bit of time. So I have to stay in show business to pay for my animal business.
Spry: Do you think having pets all your life has helped your health?
Betty: Oh, I sure do. Aren’t they something? What would we do without them? Mine guilt-trips me when I leave in the morning, but he’s so thrilled to see me when I come home at night, that makes up for it. Pets take a lot of the edge off that stress we all live with every day, and that helps a lot.
Spry: Do you have anything left on your bucket list?
Betty: I think I’ve done it all, but I don’t think there’s any law against doing it again—as long as I’m healthy and have the energy. I’m not forcing it; I’m just enjoying life. Why should you retire from something you love as much as this?
Spry: So no plans to stop working?
Betty: I see people who retire and start going right downhill. They lose their energy and they get depressed. I’ve just been fighting for time off to do the things that I want to do. But I’ve got some responsibilities that I have to live up to work-wise, and I think that keeps you on track.
Spry: How does it feel to be America’s sweetheart? You’re so loved.
Betty: As I say, I’m the luckiest old woman on the planet.