Barbara Walters, the intrepid interviewer, host and show host who led the way as the first woman to become a television news superstar during a network career notable for its length and variety, has died. She was 93.
Walters’ death was announced on air on ABC Friday night.
“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully at home surrounded by her loved ones. She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not just for women journalists, but for all women,” her publicist Cindi Berger also said in a statement.
An ABC spokesperson had no immediate comment Friday night beyond sharing a statement from Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.
For nearly four decades on ABC, and before that on NBC, Walters’ exclusive interviews with rulers, royals and entertainers earned her celebrity status to match theirs, while also placing her at the forefront of of the trend in broadcast journalism that turned TV reporters into stars. and she brought news shows into the race for higher ratings.
Walters made headlines in 1976 as the first female network news anchor, with an unprecedented $1 million annual salary that drew astonishment. Her drive was legendary as she competed, not only with rival networks, but also with colleagues at her own network, for every big “get” in a world teeming with more and more interviewers, including female journalists who followed the path she blazed. .
“I never expected this!” Walters said in 2004, taking the measure of success from him. “I always thought he would be a television writer. I never thought he would be in front of a camera.”
But she was a natural on camera, especially when pestering notables with questions.
“I’m not afraid when I’m interviewing, I’m not afraid!” Walters told The Associated Press in 2008.
In a voice that never lost track of his native Boston accent or his substitution of Ws for Rs, Walters hurled direct and sometimes giddy questions at each subject, often sweetening them with a whispery, reverent delivery.
“Offscreen, do you like yourself?” she once asked actor John Wayne, while Lady Bird Johnson was asked if she was jealous of her late husband’s reputation for womanizing.
Late in his career, in 1997, he put a new spin on infotainment with “The View,” a live weekday ABC kaffee klatsch with an all-female panel for whom any topic was on the table and who hosted guests who went from world leaders to teenagers. Idols A sideline and unexpected success, Walters considered “The View” the “dessert” of her career.
In May 2014, he taped his final episode of “The View” amid much ceremony and a gathering of dozens of luminaries to end a five-decade career on television (although he continued to make occasional television appearances after that). During a commercial break, a host of television journalists she had paved the way for, including Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts and Connie Chung, posed with her for a group portrait of her.
“I have to remember this on bad days,” Walters said quietly, “because this is for the best.”
His career began without such signs of majesty.
In 1961, NBC hired her for a short-term writing project on the “Today” show. Shortly after that, what was seen as the woman’s token position among the eight writers on staff opened up, and Walters got the job. She then began making occasional on-air appearances with offbeat stories like “A Day in the Life of a Nun” or the trials of a Playboy Bunny. For the latter, she donned bunny ears and high heels to work at the Playboy Club.
As she appeared more frequently, she was spared the “Today” Girl title that had been attached to her token female predecessors. But she had to pay her dues, sometimes running around the “Today” set between interviews to do dog food commercials.
He had the first interview with Rose Kennedy after the assassination of her son, Robert, as well as Princess Grace of Monaco, President Richard Nixon, and many others. He traveled to India with Jacqueline Kennedy, to China with Nixon and to Iran to cover the Shah’s gala party. But he faced a setback in 1971 with the arrival of a new presenter, Frank McGee. Although they could share a desk, he insisted that she wait for him to ask three questions before she could open her mouth during joint interviews with “powerful people.”
Sensing that more freedom and opportunities outside the studio awaited him, he hit the road, producing more exclusive interviews for the show, including with Nixon’s chief of staff, HR Haldeman.
By 1976, she had been given the title of co-host of “Today” and was earning $700,000 a year. But when ABC signed her to a five-year, $5 million contract, her salary figure dubbed her “the million-dollar baby.”
Reports of his settlement did not note that his job duties would be split between the network’s entertainment division (for which he was expected to do special interviews) and ABC News, which later mired in third place. Meanwhile, Harry Reasoner, his longtime “ABC Evening News” co-anchor, was said to resent his high salary and his celebrity orientation.
“Harry didn’t want a partner,” Walters summed up. “Even though he was horrible to me, I don’t think he disliked him.”
It wasn’t just the rocky relationship with her co-host that got Walters in trouble.
Comedian Gilda Radner lampooned her on the new “Saturday Night Live” as a rotacist commentator named “Baba Wawa.” And after her interview with a newly elected president, Jimmy Carter, in which Walters told Carter to “be careful with us,” CBS correspondent Morley Safer publicly ridiculed her as “the first female pope to bless the new cardinal”.
It was a period that seemed to mark the end of everything he had worked for, he later recalled.
“I thought it was over: ‘How stupid of me to leave NBC!'”
But salvation came in the form of a new boss, ABC News president Roone Arledge, who ousted her from co-anchorship and moved her to special projects for ABC News. Meanwhile, she found success with her quarterly prime time talk specials. She became a frequent contributor to the ABC newsmagazine “20/20”, joining forces with then-anchor Hugh Downs, and in 1984 she became co-host. A perennial favorite of hers was her review of the “10 Most Fascinating People” of the year.
Walters is survived by his only daughter, Jacqueline Danforth.
Moore, a veteran Associated Press television writer who retired in 2017, was the lead writer for this obituary. Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
In this May 7, 1975 file photo, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, center right, answers a question from NBC US reporter Barbara Walters at a news conference given to members of the US press covering the US citizen’s trip. Senator George McGovern to Cuba, in Havana. Cuba. (AP Photo, File)
In this May 8, 1980 file photo, former US President Richard M. Nixon answers a question during an interview with ABC television personality Barbara Walters in New York. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine, File)
In this Sept. 28, 1994 file photo, ‘Entertainment Tonight’ co-host Mary Hart, left, speaks with Barbara Walters during a reception at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Nadel)
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