The actress was born in Newark, New Jersey on June 16, 1940 to parents Arthur and Eleanor Zitzner. The acting bug was firmly planted in her bloodline long before her arrival, as both her mother and maternal grandmother were also actresses.
After graduating from high school in Caldwell, New Jersey, White studied acting at both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and the American Theater Wing in New York City. While pursuing her early career, the aspiring actress also worked as a personal assistant to none other than Marlene Dietrich, accompanying the screen legend on a tour of Australia during her later years.
“This was towards the end of her career, but she was wonderful, so nice to everyone,” White revealed of the icon in a 2002 profile in her local New Jersey paper. “She would walk around all day kind of slumped over and sagging and then, at night, she would tape her face back, put on a wig, pull herself up and perform and she was really something.”
The actress met Dietrich’s drummer Andy White, — who’s best remembered for playing the drums on The Beatles’ original 1962 single “Love Me Do” — while performing in a production of Goodbye, Charlie at a dinner theater. As the Scottish drummer lived in London at the time, the pair struck up a long-distance romance before eventually marrying in 1983.
Once married, White retired from acting and became a librarian, working at the Livingston Public Library in Livingston, New Jersey as an outreach specialist. By chance, White got the call for Courage the Cowardly Dog when the production company had asked an acquaintance if he knew anyone with a Scottish accent. While producers were calling to speak with her Scottish husband, White decided to seize the opportunity. “I don’t know anyone, but I used to be an actress and my husband is a Scot, and I can do the accent, so why don’t I audition?” she told them, landing the role of Muriel and officially coming out of retirement.
While best-known for playing the elderly matriarch during the Cartoon Network series’ original run from 1999 to 2002, she also lent her voice to appearances as Muriel in the Cartoon Network Racing video game, the 2014 short The Fog of Courage and the upcoming Scooby-Doo crossover film Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog. (The latter is scheduled for home video release on September 14th.)
Prior to her death, White had undergone two surgeries for liver cancer and passed away due to an infection following the last operation. Following the news of her passing, fans took to Twitter to honor White’s memory and place in their childhoods.
“Today, we have lost a wonderful voice actress, Thea White…she may not be here anymore. but she will always remain in our hearts,” one tweeted alongside three photos of the actress and her animated counterpart. Another posted the clip from the show where Muriel adopts an abandoned Courage, writing, “This scene hits in a different way now…RIP Thea White.”
Read White’s family’s announcement of her death and more fan reactions below.
today, we have lost a wonderful voice actress, Thea White.
she was the voice of Muriel Bagge from Courage the Cowardly Dog.
rest in peace to her and her family on how they are feeling about the loss. she may not be here anymore. but she will always remain in our hearts ❤️ pic.twitter.com/3dxMmNe83t
— Leon Armas (@LeonEngine) July 31, 2021
This scene hits in a different way now…
RIP Thea White. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/D5zUnLq8rs
— TRAFON(s Backup Account) (@RiseFallNickBck) August 1, 2021
I just received some very devastating news.
Thea White, best known by many as the phenomenal longtime voice of Muriel from Courage the Cowardly Dog, has passed away at the age of 81.
She was such a sweet and lovely lady animated and IRL and she will be dearly missed. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/wbx1sRDD36Advertisement
— Sir Simon A. | Celebrating 5 Years of BLC (@BabyLamb5) July 31, 2021
Courage the Cowardly Dog is my favorite show. It was when it aired live 20 years ago, and still is.
I always loved Muriel. Her kindness was heart warming, and Thea White's gentle voice and charming mannerisms gave Muriel the life she needed. An immortal performance.Advertisement
— Zach Holzman (@ZachHolzmanVA) August 1, 2021