Barbara Walters, TV news icon and creator of The View , dies at 93
Barbara Walters, a broadcast legend who blazed myriad trails for women in journalism, has died at her home in New York City. She was 93.
Walters' amazing career transcended six decades, from 1951 to 2015. She was the first woman cohost of Today, the first female network news co-anchor, the host and producer of countless top-rated specials, the host of 20/20, and the creator and cohost of The View. She interviewed every sitting president and first lady from the Nixons to the Obamas, and was famous for her sit-down interviews with household names like Mother Teresa and Colin Powell in her annual special, Barbara Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People, which ran from 1993 to 2015.
Walters' father ran a nightclub, which kicked off her lifetime of being surrounded by celebrities. Born in Boston on Sept. 25, 1929, she also grew up in Miami and New York City, eventually graduating from Sarah Lawrence. When her dad's business faltered, Walters became responsible for providing for her family. She soon kicked off her journalism career in New York, joining the CBS network staff as a producer and as a writer before becoming a writer for NBC's Today in 1961. She eventually became one of the morning show's "Today girls," who focused on lighter fare.
Everett Collection Barbara Walters
But Walters continued to hone her skills outside the studio, writing and reporting until she became a more respected force on the show at a time when it was very unusual to see a prominent woman in broadcast journalism. She had to endure unfair treatment from Today host Frank McGee, for example, who refused to do joint interviews with her unless he was given the first three questions. Walters protested and took her complaint to the network higher-ups, who ultimately let McGee have his way.
When McGee died in 1974, Walters finally became cohost of Today; she won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host the following year. In 1976, ABC hired her for its evening news broadcast, making her not only the first woman to cohost a network news show but the highest-paid journalist at that time, with a million-dollar salary. Her contract included four interview specials, a one-on-one format that Walters became famous for. Within a few years, she was off the anchor desk and focusing on her interview specials more exclusively. She was also chosen to be the moderator for the final debate between presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976.
In 1979, Walters joined the ABC news magazine 20/20. She cohosted the series with her colleague Hugh Downs until he retired in 1999, then became the show's sole host until 2004.
Walters also conducted the first interview on American television with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the first interview with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, after Sept. 11. Her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky was seen by 74 million viewers. Her candid conversations with famously brittle star Katharine Hepburn were legendary; she was ridiculed for asking Hepburn what kind of tree she would be, later claiming that the question was taken out of context. She also asked the exclusively pants-wearing Hepburn if she owned a skirt; Hepburn replied, "I have one… I'll wear it to your funeral."
While still on 20/20, Walters created and developed The View, an all-women daytime talk show, which she also cohosted. The show became an immediate success when it debuted in 1997, just as famous for its feuds between cohosts like Star Jones and Joy Behar as it was for the celebrities that appeared on the show. The View brought her two more Daytime Emmys — for Best Talk Show in 2003, and Best Talk Show Host (with Behar, moderator Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd) in 2009. She announced her impending retirement on the show in 2013, although she still did her Most Fascinating People special in 2014 and 2015.
Lou Rocco/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images Sherri Shepherd with Barbara Walters on her final episode of 'The View,' on May 12, 2014.
Over more than six decades in television, she earned 12 Primetime Emmy nominations for The Barbara Walters Special, taking one home in 1983 for Outstanding Informational Series. She also received 33 Daytime Emmy Award nominations, and won three times, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989. But pointedly, when she won a GLAAD Award in 2008 for her report on transgender children, she said, "You can forget all the Emmys. This means more to me."
For all her skill in getting other people to open up, Walters was extremely protective of her own private life. She was married four times to three different men (Robert Henry Katz, Lee Guber, and Merv Adelson), and never remarried after divorcing Adelson for a second time in 1992. With Guber, Walters adopted a daughter in 1968 and named her Jacqueline for her developmentally disabled sister, who died in 1988. In her 2018 memoir, Audition, she called her sister "unwittingly the strongest influence on my life."
In her later years, Walters developed dementia. At the time of her death, she hadn't been seen in public since 2016, but continued to be an inspiration for aspiring journalists.
In an episode of Oprah's Master Class, Walters said, "This is what I tell, especially, young women… Don't fight the little fights, if you don't get all the lines, if you're not where you should be. Be the first one in. Be the last one out. Do your homework. Choose your battles. Don't whine, and don't be the one who complains about everything. Fight the big fights."
She also told Vanity Fair in 2014: "Do I see myself as a feminist idol? No. I don't see myself as anything. I do not see myself as a trailblazer. I don't think about that. I get up, and I do my day, and I do my work, and I see friends. But I don't sit and think about how I see myself, or what my legacy is."
Walters is survived by her daughter, Jacqueline, and a markedly different journalistic landscape than the one she first encountered all those years ago, thanks to her indelible impact on the profession.
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