Immortality Lost/Immortality Found

I had a shock a few moments ago. I was browsing through my Facebook news feed and came upon a story entitled, “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully in Her Los Angeles Home.” The thoughts that went through my mind, Baby Boomer-like, were of having lived with Betty White all my life in one incarnation or other, all the way back to Password and Alan Ludden, and I thought to myself how sad for her cast mates from the current show, Hot in Cleveland.

Then I thought, Oh my God, we’re all mortal. If Betty can go, then, holy shit, I can go too! My bid for immortality, my aging portrait in the attic—poof! Gone in a puff of smoke. Nothing was sacred at that moment because Betty is our bid for immortality, the one that may yet get out alive, working past 90, funny as the Catskills, extra sharp like cheese, and if she can keep going, I can too. We had an unspoken pact, Betty and me, and I’m sure Betty and a few million other Boomers: if you’re all in, I’m all in. We go through life together, and we’ve got each other’s backs. And now she’s gone? Peacefully in her Los Angeles home?

Then I started to read the obit and realized I’d been had. That wasn’t a typo in the headline (and who among us hasn’t cringed at the magnitude and frequency of typos in news headlines and leads these says). She dyes her hair peacefully at home. I was looking at the most clever PR gag in recent memory timed to push new episodes of Hot in Cleveland.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Betty White: Quotes George Washington that the news of her death has been greatly exaggerated.

The obit is written like a press release, dead pan, and discusses the fact that “she rarely likes to discuss the fact, at least in public, that she is actually a brunette.” It goes on in this vein, and the piece works specifically because we’ve seen so many of these stories of late: James Garner, Richard Kiel, and this morning Denny Miller. We expect bad news—we just didn’t expect it of Betty because of, you know, the pact.

Leave it to Betty to sanction a stunt like this one, because the woman knows funny, even when it strays off the radar grid into the offbeat and to some, off-putting.

But you know what the result will be. Too many people scan these things with one eye, or with one lobe tied behind the backs, and there is going to be one hell of a rumor that Betty White is dead. It’s going to boomerang around the world and come sailing back and land at the feet of Betty White’s still-vertical body that she’s no longer with us. She’ll have that twinkle in her eye and smile that dimpled smile at the thought that she pulled a fast one, or that some hack somewhere wrote a piece about her that circumnavigated the earth.

Personally, the instant I knew this was a PR stunt, I felt like the governor had just sent over a reprieve on my walk to the gallows. Betty White lives! Which means I live! On and on, with the vigor of youth, and funny as cheddar. Just like Betty.

One comment

  1. I’ll admit that I had a few bad moments when I started reading your column today, Robert, until I realized that the Betty White “dyeing” bit had been a hoax.

    If you really want to have another reminder about how life can be sweet, or, at least, sweeter, what about Betty’s Mary Tyler Moore Show co-star Valerie Harper?

    It was in March, 2013 that TV’s beloved Rhoda announced that she had been told that she had terminal brain cancer and three months to live. Harper was the incarnation of positve thinking at the time, made a few TV rounds and, for the most part, didn’t stop smilling as she expressed her celebration about life and thanked those who had sent her their best wishes.

    And here we are now, 18 months later, and not only is Valerie still with us, but she says that brain scans are showing that her cancer has not progressed. That doesn’t mean it’s gone away, of course, but, having defied the odds for well over a year now, who’s to say how long she will continue to do so. Perhaps death has taken a holiday, at least for a while, regarding this lady.

    For which I say, bravo to a 92 year old Betty for her sense of humour regarding the Grim Reaper (normally a source to send shudders through the soul of most people), and bravo to Valerie for the inspiration of her courage and positive thinking, truly a lesson for us all.

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