Happy Birthday! Television icon Betty White planned to mark her 97th birthday today, Thursday, Jan. 17, with a small party and a few close friends. “Her celebrations are easy: buffet food, a professional piano player, and just a lovely vibe,” a close acquaintance of the star exclusively told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s newest issue, on newsstands now. “She has her chef cook — Betty loves Italian food — and just likes to sit with friends, sing show tunes, and have fun. She’s always been low-key about birthdays.”

Even on her big day, Betty remains unpretentious and easygoing. Though she’s gotten older, the star has lost none of the good cheer that has guided her life’s journey and made her so beloved. “I had no idea that I would still be around at this point,” Betty once joked. Betty, who’s always been “a big cockeyed optimist,” once admitted her parents, Tess and Horace, “went a long way on teaching me how to appreciate the positives as opposed to the negatives.”

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As she turns 97, she’s slowed down just a little. “Mobility can be a challenge for her,” said the friend, who confided Betty has a housekeeper at home to help out. But “her mind is as sharp as ever,” the pal said. “She’s still funny and lively.”

It’s not an accident. Betty likes to do crosswords and sudoku puzzles to keep her brain limber, and she tries to stay on top of the news and entertainment. “She keeps up with all the latest shows and remains plugged into pop culture,” noted the friend, who says she loves Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud.

Staying current, Betty has said, helps keep her engaged in life. “Don’t try to be young,” she once advised. “Just open your mind. Stay interested in stuff. There are so many things I won’t live long enough to find out about, but I’m still curious about them.”

Since the 1970s, Betty has been an advocate for animal welfare and on the board of directors of the LA Zoo. “She loves animals,” the friend said. “They soothe her.” She still does animal benefits and spends lots of time with Pontiac, her golden retriever.

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A widow since her husband Allen Ludden’s death in 1981, Betty likes to visit and share memories with friends and her three stepchildren. “She always refers to Allen as the love of her life,” said the friend. Betty has said that losing Allen taught her to “keep the person in your heart” and “replay the good times” because “you can’t become a professional mourner.”

As Betty celebrates turning another year older, she can be proud that she hasn’t allowed life’s trials to turn her cynical. “Her secrets are to have a positive outlook, a sense of humor and not take anything — especially herself — too seriously,” the friend shared. “It’s your outlook on life that counts. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, pretty soon you’ll find the humor in our everyday lives. And sometimes that can be a lifesaver.”

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