Betty White, Nearly 90, Fights Old-Age Stereotypes for AARP

Actress says poker, crossword puzzles and a positive attitude keep her young.

May 24, 2011— -- Betty White, pushing 90 and still sizzling in TVLand's "Hot in Cleveland," is the new face of AARP, hoping to dispel stereotypes about older Americans.

"Just get over it," says White in a new advertising campaign on television and online. AARP is also sponsoring a contest; first prize is a chance to meet the actress on the set of her show.

Some of White's award-winning roles came well after she had turned 50 -- the sex-crazed "Happy Homemaker," Sue Ann Nivens, in television's "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and the naïve Rose Nylund in "Golden Girls."

She also became a Facebook phenomenon after a Super Bowl commercial, and appeared as the oldest guest host ever last year on "Saturday Night Live."

"The campaign makes full use of Betty's wit and comedic history," said AARP's Emilio Pardo. "She is reminding us to get over it. It's not about age, it's about attitude."

"The message is, you can't get rid of me," laughed White in an interview with reporters Monday. In the last two years, her peppy visage has been everywhere.

"I think it's your mental attitude," she said. "So many of us start dreading age in high school and that's a waste of a lovely life. 'Oh…I'm 30, oh, I'm 40, oh, 50.' Make the most of it."

White said she has been blessed with good health and "accentuates the positive."

"A lot of people think this is a goodie two-shoes talking," she said. "But we do have a tendency to complain rather than celebrating who we are. I learned at my mother's knee it's better to appreciate what's happening...I think we kind of talk ourselves into the negative sometimes."

White said has taken care of her physical health all of her life, though she confesses to a penchant for hot dogs and French fries rather than a healthy salad on the set of "Hot in Cleveland."

"Wendy Malick and Valerie Bertinelli make fun of me," she said. "But I take care of my health – I don't abuse it."

She keeps her mind sharp by playing poker and keeping up with her young co-stars. Though she is an octogenarian and pays attention to her balance so as not to fall, she said she still lives in a two-story house and manages the stairs.

"I am interested in a lot of things – not just show business and my passion for animals," she said. "I try to keep current in what's going on in the world. I do mental exercises. I don't have any trouble memorizing lines because of the crossword puzzles I do every day to keep my mind a little limber. I don't sit and vegetate."

White, who has no children, was married twice before she found happiness in her 19-year marriage to Allen Ludden, the host of television's "Password." He died of stomach cancer in 1981, and she has never remarried.

"Sure, you miss the love of your life," she said. "The person isn't around anymore. But with a good attitude, you can keep them a lot closer than you would if you just let it all go and turned into grief. My beloved Allen…every once in awhile I find myself saying "good morning' to his picture."

"I think you just enjoy other people's good fortune along with your own," she said.

And which role did White feel was most like herself?

"I liked Rose best of all," said White. "She was a positive thinker and wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. She wasn't dumb, she was just terminally naive. I used to ask Allen the same question and he'd say, 'Of course, Sue Ann Nivens.' She could fix anything cold and wasn't the nicest gal in the office to work with. He'd say, "Betty Ann and Sue Ann were the same person, only Betty can't cook."

She confesses she only joined AARP in January. Getting older has its perks, according to White.

"You get a license to steal, being old," she said. "They spoil you rotten and take good care of you. When I am standing waiting for a cue, I turn around and someone pulls a chair behind me – whether I want it or not. I love the perspective it gives you."