Barbara Walters, the legendary TV journalist who grilled the famous and infamous, co-created ABC's The View, and, above all, blazed trails for women in broadcasting, died on Friday, according to the network. She was 93.
The first woman to co-host the show that’s now known as Today, the first woman to anchor a network evening newscast, and only the second woman to moderate a presidential debate, Walters made an indelible impression on the airwaves. She was a daytime fixture on The View from its start in 1997 until 2014, when she retired.
In her five decade career, Walters won 12 Emmy awards. In 2000, she was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys.
Walters interviewed every sitting U.S. president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. She caught up with Donald Trump in 2015, in the early months of The Apprentice star's successful White House run; the interview aired as part of Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2015, her final interview special.
Her other sit-down subjects ranged from cowboy hero John Wayne to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
She was, in a word, relentless.
“To get guests,” Walters once said, “I write, I call, I persevere.”
Born Sept. 25, 1929, in Boston, Walters grew up amid the bold-faced names she would one day press for answers; her father, Lou Walters, was a noted Manhattan nightclub owner.
After graduating college, Walters began her news career at CBS. While she aspired to do on-camera work, she couldn’t crack the boys’ club. “I was the token woman,” she would say.
In 1961, Walters moved to NBC’s The Today Show as a writer and researcher, but soon began contributing on-air reports and interviews. Though she eventually came to serve as Today’ s de facto co-anchor, she wasn’t awarded the title until her 13th year with the program.
In 1976, she signed an unprecedented $1 million-a-year deal to jump to ABC and co-anchor the ABC Evening News. Male critics pooh-poohed the idea that the gig was significant; her male partner, Harry Reasoner, barely disguised his contempt for Walters or her salary. Less than two years after the experiment began, it ended — no woman would regularly anchor a weeknight newscast for another 15 years.
After leaving ABC Evening News, Walters remained with the network at 20/20, eventually becoming the newsmagazine's co-anchor. She also continued to produce and host what would become her signature, The Barbara Walters Special.
In those shows, Walters got access to the inaccessible. Her interviews with Academy Award-nominated stars became an Oscar-night staple.
Walters's interviewing style and especially her lisp were mocked in the 1970s by Saturday Night Live ’s Gilda Radner, who wore an ash-blond wig to play the character Baba Wawa. Walters admitted to not being thrilled by the imitation, but she would later speak warmly of the jibes and of Radner, who died in 1989.
Walters also became known for making her guests cry. Everyone from Winfrey to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. choked up while seated across from the interviewer.
It was rare for Walters to lose a “big get” — it was she who got former White House intern Monica Lewinsky to do a sit-down at the height of the President Bill Clinton sex scandal; Walters herself called the Lewinsky interview probably her most famous (and, indeed, it was her most-watched, drawing nearly 50 million viewers in 1999).
In 1997, Walters helped reposition the daytime talk show as the daytime chat show. The View was built on the premise that viewers would like to eavesdrop on the conversations of four opinionated people, all of whom happened to be women. The show became noted for making controversy as much as covering it; exits by co-hosts Star Jones and Rosie O’Donnell were fiery and bitter, although O’Donnell, who returned to the show in the fall of 2014, would say she still loved Walters.
“She is one of the women who paved the way for every other woman on television in broadcasting,” O'Donnell said on Today in 2008. “You can’t ever look at her life and career and have anything but respect for her. And I do love her.”
Walters would talk of having paid a personal price for her life as a pioneer. She was married and divorced three times. In her 2008 memoir, Audition, she confessed to affairs with U.S. senators Edward Brooke and John Warner, the latter of whom she would interview alongside his then-wife, Elizabeth Taylor. After enduring several miscarriages during her marriage to Lee Guber, a Broadway producer, Walters and Guber adopted a baby girl, her daughter, Jacqueline.
In 2003, Walters told NBC News she didn't take any leave from The Today Show after becoming a mother.
"There was no having it all,” Walters said.
Walters announced her retirement in May 2013.
“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain,” Walters said on The View. “I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place.”
Just prior to the announcement, Walters was off the air for about two months after suffering a head injury during a fall at a Washington, D.C., gala, and then, during her recuperation, contracting chicken pox. She said her health was sound, though, and she continued to contribute to ABC News even after she took leave of her full-time responsibilities in 2014. In 2016, she appeared on a retrospective of The View that was timed to mark the show’s 20th season.
Looking back, Walters told The Oprah Winfrey Show she thought age had made her kinder, which might be “why I’m not going to be a very good interviewer anymore.”
There was, however, one advantage that all her years and all her firsts had brought her; Said Walters in the same interview, “I’ve stopped auditioning.”