“A Tribute to America’s Golden Girl,” taped in early January, aired Monday on NBC and — surprise, surprise — featured many of the network’s stars, like Amy Poehler, Joel McHale and the dude from “Chuck.” They were joined by celebrities of yore including Ed Asner, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore for a night of jokes about age, glowing speeches and clips from White’s six plus decade long career.
Poehler, the “Parks and Rec” star, kicked off the 90-minute celebration with a few jokes about just how old White is. Poehler called the actress a pioneer: “I call her a pioneer because 90 years ago she literally arrived to California on stage coach.”
“Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers delivered a Betty White-centric “Weekend Update” via video, while Zachary Levi of the cancelled “Chuck” proposed to the TV legend in person. He was rewarded with a kiss on the lips.
President Obama sent a video greeting, asking White to prove she is really 90 by producing a long-form birth certificate. (Well played, Mr. President.) Ellen DeGeneres, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Jay Leno and Ray Romano with Brad Garrett also sent pre-taped birthday wishes.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the special was the appearance of Mary Tyler Moore, who starred with White on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The actress, who turned 75 last month, underwent brain surgery last May to remove a benign tumor. Moore, who looked a tad frail, was greeted to the stage with a standing ovation.
Carol Burnett, who played White’s sister on “Mama’s Family,” also received a standing ovation, as she introduced clips from their time together on “The Carol Burnett Show,” as well as “The Tonight Show” and “Golden Girls.” (Yes, the classic “Golden Girls” condoms bit made it into the special.) With tears in her eyes, Burnett expressed her hopes to salute White on her 100th birthday.
William Shatner introduced clips of White’s commercials, from Geritol to Snickers. Joel McHale hosted a modified version of “Password,” which was originally helmed by White’s late husband, Allen Ludden. Valerie Harper, Vicki Lawrence, Gavin MacLeod and Ed Asner served as contestants.
Asner, a star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” had one of the best lines of the night. “I’m not gonna suck up to you,” he told White, invoking a his “Moore Show” character Lou Grant. “Wipe that smile off your face.” Naturally, this made White smile a whole lot more.
White’s “Hot in Cleveland” co-stars — Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves — hypothesized that the actress is actually a robot, then showed clips from White’s “SNL” hosting gig. Jennifer Love Hewitt was on hand to celebrate White’s work with animals.
Finally, it was White’s turn to make a speech. Clearly moved, White expressed how grateful she is to have spent most of her life in a business she loves.
“I’ve been the luckiest old broad on two feet to have all the jobs that I’ve had,” White, who turns 90 today, said humbly. After the special ended — with those assembled singing “Thank You For Being a Friend” — White’s new “Candid Camera”-esque prank show, “Off Their Rockers,” debuted.
See more pictures of the celebs who feted White below.