Betty White was 'champion of the animal world,' friend of Columbus Zoo and Jack Hanna
Betty White was a longtime supporter of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and of its former director, Jack Hanna.
White died Friday at age 99. She was a television mainstay for more than 60 years, whether as a man-crazy TV hostess on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” or the loopy housemate on “The Golden Girls."
At the Columbus Zoo, the entrance to the Heart of Africa exhibit was named Betty White Way to honor the actress and her contributions to animal conservation. In 2014, White joined Hanna to officially open the Heart of Africa area.
The $30.4 million exhibit marked a major expansion for the zoo. According to news reports, White cried and told Hanna that she had finally been to Africa after seeing the exhibit.
The zoo released a statement Friday afternoon:
"Our hearts are heavy hearing of the passing of our friend Betty White. We cherish the fond memories of her most recent visit to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium when she was our guest of honor at the opening of the Heart of Africa region in 2014 with her dear friend Jack Hanna.
"Betty was a wonderful person, a supporter of the Columbus Zoo, and a true champion for all animals. She will be greatly missed."
The Hanna family also issued a similar statement:
"We are heartbroken by the passing of our dear and special friend, Betty White. Jack first met Betty in the late ‘70s and we have considered her a cherished family friend ever since. Betty was a champion for the animal world. We were so grateful and blessed to have known her."
For Hanna's 40th anniversary at the zoo in 2018, White issued a statement that said, "The zoo world and the animal world at large are far better off for having Jack in them. And let's face it ... he just keeps getting better looking, so I hope he's around for a long, long time!"
When Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, turned 60 in 2016, White weighed in, too. She posted a video on the zoo's Facebook page, wishing the gorilla a Happy Birthday and saying, "I love you sweetheart."
Colo died in 2017 on White's 95th birthday.
At one point White was trustee and president emeritus of the Morris Animal Foundation and was on the board of the Los Angeles Zoo.
In 1996, she spoke at a Columbus Zoo fundraiser that benefited a Rwandan orphanage and mountain gorillas in Rwanda, according to news reports.
"My love of animals began in the womb," she said. "I grew up finding animals the most fantastic friends on Earth."
White launched her TV career in daytime talk shows when the medium was still in its infancy and endured well into the age of cable and streaming. Her combination of sweetness and edginess gave life to a roster of quirky characters in shows from the sitcom “Life With Elizabeth” in the early 1950s to oddball Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls” in the ’80s to “Boston Legal,” which ran from 2004 to 2008.
But it was in 2010 that White’s stardom erupted as never before.
In a Snickers commercial that premiered during that year’s Super Bowl telecast, she impersonated an energy-sapped dude getting tackled during a backlot football game.
“Mike, you’re playing like Betty White out there,” jeered one of his chums. White, flat on the ground and covered in mud, fired back, “That’s not what your girlfriend said!”
The instantly-viral video helped spark a Facebook campaign called “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!,” whose half-million fans led to her co-hosting “Saturday Night Live” in a much-watched, watch-hailed edition that Mother’s Day weekend. The appearance won her a seventh Emmy award.
Such was her popularity that even White’s birthday became a national event: In January 2012, NBC aired “Betty White’s 90th Birthday Party” as a star-studded prime-time special. She would later appear in such series as “Bones” and Fireside Chat With Esther” and in 2019 gave voice to one of the toys, “Bitey White,” in “Toy Story 4.”
White remained youthful in part through her skill at playing bawdy or naughty while radiating niceness. The horror spoof “Lake Placid” and the comedy “The Proposal” were marked by her characters’ surprisingly salty language. And her character Catherine Piper killed a man with a skillet on “Boston Legal.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Betty White was 'champion of the animal world,' friend of Columbus Zoo and Jack Hanna