Legendary news anchor has died

On Friday morning, it was reported that Barbara Walters, who became the first woman to co-anchor morning and evening newscasts, had passed away at the age of 93.

“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully in her home surrounded by loved ones. She lived her life with no regrets,” said Cindi Berger, her representative. “She was a trailblazer not only for female journalists, but for all women.”

According to ABC News’ David Muir, Walters was an “extraordinary human being, journalist, pioneer, and legend.”

“We were all influenced by Barbara Walters,” he stated. “She broke barriers behind the scenes and she broke news on-camera. She got people to say things they never would’ve said to another journalist.”

The daughter of a nightclub owner, Walters entered the television industry in order to support her family after her father went bankrupt. After graduating from college, she pursued a career asking questions about the public and private lives of the powerful, the rich, the famous, and the infamous. No woman in television journalism has had a longer career, with more scoops and controversies, praise and ridicule.

In 1956, she made her television debut as a writer for CBS’ “The Morning Show,” in which she and four other young women modeled modest one-piece bathing suits. In 1961, she joined NBC as a “Today Girl,” and in 1974, her first role as a co-host of “Today.” In 1976, she was disastrously paired with Harry Reasoner, as co-anchors of ABC’s “Evening News.” Reasoner did not like her at all, and he did not conceal his dislike of her.

Nevertheless, she “survived” and enjoyed a long career at ABC interviewing celebrities and politicians, including Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin (together for the first time in 1977). After a successful run on the ABC television program “20/20,” she launched “The View,” a daily talk show for women, in 1997.

Over the years, she interviewed Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, John Wayne, the Shah of Iran, Fidel Castro (an hourlong prime-time exclusive broadcast worldwide), Barbra Streisand and, perhaps most famously, Presidential intern Monica Lewinsky (as part of a record-breaking news broadcast of 48.5 million viewers).

For years, Barbara Walters’ “Barbara Walters Specials” were among the most popular broadcasts, and they featured celebrities such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. She launched the “Most Fascinating People” special broadcasts in 1993 to provide an overview of the year’s most significant newsmakers.

A measure of mockery was directed at her because of her high profile. In the early days of “Saturday Night Live,” Gilda Radner exaggerated Walters’ trademark speech impediment, a slight lisp, as Baba Wawa, thereby gaining American folklore. When she revived the impression to ring in 2020, CNN hosts Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen were tickled when Cheri Oteri impersonated the journalist in sketches about “The View” and “20/20.”

Walters was mercilessly haunted by the question she asked actress Katherine Hepburn in 1981 about the type of tree she wished to be. Hepburn said, “I’m like a tree,” as Walters corrected the story in a 2008 interview with USA TODAY. “So,” Walters continued, “I asked, ‘What kind of tree?’” but “no one remembers that.” (Hepburn’s answer: “Everybody would like to be an oak tree; that’s very strong, very pretty.”)

There is one question she herself has consistently avoided: her exact age. “Every woman is entitled to one fetish,” she stated in the interview. “It’s so silly. Let’s just say I’m closer to 80 than 70.” She then added, “Now you’re supposed to tell me how good I look.”

A bestselling memoir by Walters, “Audition,” included the kind of personal disclosures she enjoyed in celebrity interviews.

Walters was married four times (twice to television executive Merv Adelson) and was well known for dating famous men, including former Virginia Sen. John Warner, before and after his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor. “I could not imagine a less well-suited pair,” said Walters about Warner and Taylor.

Walters’ memoir reveals that, in the 1970s, she had an affair with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, the first Black senator since Reconstruction who was married. According to her, Brooke was “the most attractive, sexiest, funniest, charming and impossible man.”

They were involved for a few years before they decided, in her words, that they could not afford to risk their careers and “wisely, but very sadly,” stopped seeing one another.

As part of her 2008 interview, Walters was asked a question she frequently asked others: How would she like to be remembered? “On a personal level, as a loving mother. On a professional level, I don’t want to be remembered for asking Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she’d like to be, which I didn’t do. Or as an interviewer who made people cry – which I don’t do anymore – but as a good journalist.”

It was her reputation for attempting to draw tears from interview subjects and more often than not succeeding in doing so. According to her, she had asked about her subject’s childhood, “because that’s revealing, and they’d remember a parent or someone who’d died. That’s before every celebrity getting out of rehab would cry.”

In 2008, when ABC aired a special on Walters, anchor Charles Gibson asked her what he could ask her that would make her cry.

According to her, her older sister, Jacqueline, died in 1985. She acknowledged in her memoir that she felt both embarrassment and shame about her sister, who was mildly mentally disabled. “I loved her and at times I hated her –for being different.”

Her memoir also describes the turbulent adolescence of her daughter, also named Jacqueline, who was involved with drugs, gangs, and ran away from home. “That was such a terrible time,” Walters said, “but we made it.” One of her daughters, born in 1968, went on to establish an outdoor therapy program for girls.

Following open-heart surgery in 2010 to replace her aortic valve, Walters adopted a new perspective.

“The surgery had to have had some meaning for me,” she wrote in an essay published in Vanity Fair. “I decided that with my new heart it was time for a new attitude, time to do things I had wanted to do for years and not continue doing things I had no serious interest in. No more big dinners just to prove I was invited. No more opera. Ditto for Shakespeare. No more splashy charity events. Send a check instead. The new and happier me.”

Walters announced in 2013 that she would be retiring from hosting ABC’s “The View” and her prime-time specials the following year. In April 2014, she announced that she would be leaving the talk show within the next month, explaining on the program: “It feels right for me. I love this show. I love what we’ve done. It will continue without me. But I also know that it’s time. I don’t want people to say, ‘Is she still here?'” 

Prior to her departure, she told USA TODAY that she did not feel forced to make the decision. “Nobody was pushing me, (and) there was not somebody newer, younger, funnier,” she said. “At some point, I just thought it was time. If I stayed yet another year, I’m not sure what that would have given me. It’s been 18 years.”

In spite of appearing on “The View” after her retirement, Walters remained mostly out of the public eye.

On New Year’s Day 2020, Walters was once again top of mind, thanks to her legendary introductory line: “This is 20/20.” “Good Morning America” paid tribute to Walters by having a few celebrities deliver the famous phrase. It began with old footage of Walters on the news show saying, “This is 20/20,” acknowledging that “no one says it like Barbara,” before cutting to ABC stars proclaiming the catchphrase.

In 2008, Walters stated, “I’m in a good place in my life. I’ve stopped auditioning. I don’t need to climb any more mountains. The ghosts are gone.”

As a native of Boston, Walters was the daughter of entertainment mogul Lou Walters, who owned nightclubs in New York, Miami, and Boston. She is survived by her daughter.