Barbara Walters, groundbreaking TV journalist, dies at 93
Barbara Walters, the iconic TV journalist known for her interviews with presidents, world leaders and Hollywood stars, has died at the age of 93, a representative for Walters confirmed to CBS News Friday night.
“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully in her home surrounded by loved ones. She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not only for female journalists, but for all women,” representative Cindi Berger said in a statement.
There was no immediate word on a cause of Walters’ death.
Walters was a familiar face on America’s television sets for more than 50 years, interviewing every president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama and setting a standard few others could match.
Born in Boston in 1929, Walters attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, according to her ABC News profile. She started in the early 1960s as a writer and researcher on NBC’s “Today” show, but became a reporter-at-large within a year, responsible for developing, writing and editing her own stories.
It was at NBC that Walters began to develop her signature interviewing technique: questions that seemed casual but turned out to be revealing. In a 2000 interview with the Television Academy reflecting on her career, she described her process for developing those questions.
“I write questions on cards, and I write hundreds…” she said. “I write everything I can think of. I go around and I say to people, ‘What would you ask if you could? What would you ask?’ And then I boil them down and boil them down and boil them down.”
In 1974, Walters was named the first female co-host of “Today.” Two years later, she left for ABC, where she became the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news broadcast.
She reached spectacular heights at ABC, including arranging and conducting the first-ever joint interview with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin in November 1977 as they led their countries to a history-making peace accord.
“It was a historic interview, and it’s one I’m very proud just to have sort of, you know, been involved with. I can’t take credit for making great history. But when people say to me, ‘Of all the interviews you’ve done, or of all the people you know…’ It’s so hard to answer them. But I usually say Anwar Sadat,” she said in the Television Academy interview, highlighting the impact Sadat’s actions had on the future of the region.
Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather tweeted Friday that Walters was a “trailblazer and a true pro” who “outworked, out-thought, and out-hustled her competitors. She left the world the better for it. She will be deeply missed.”
On ABC’s newsmagazine “20/20” and in her own specials, Walters continued adding to her list of big interviews. Her guests included Russian President Boris Yeltsin, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Libya’s Moammar Qadaffi and Iraq’s Sadaam Hussein. She also conducted the first interview with President George W. Bush after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and was the first American journalist to interview Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 1999, Walters also secured the first TV interview with Monica Lewinsky in the wake of the scandal that led to the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton. That interview became the highest-rated news program ever broadcast by a single network, according to ABC.
“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself. She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state and leaders of regimes to the biggest celebrities and sports icons,” wrote Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney, which owns ABC.
Along the way, she became one of the best-known and most admired women in America — famous enough to be spoofed on “Saturday Night Live.”
Walters also helped create the mid-morning talk show “The View,” which she said came to be in 1997 when the network asked if she had any ideas for daytime TV. She told the Television Academy that “The View” allowed her to show a side of her personality that didn’t come across in a typical interview.
“People saw me as very authoritative and very serious because that’s what I did mostly. And on here, I can be myself — I have to be careful, because these other women can sort of go too far with me, you know, they’ll ask me about my sex life or who I was — you know, what I did, I don’t know, personal questions, what I did last Saturday night,” she said. “But it’s a chance for me to be much more myself, and to laugh, and to speak spontaneously, and it’s been very successful.”
In 2004, after 25 years as co-host and chief correspondent of “20/20,” Walters left the show, but she remained at the network to create primetime news specials, including her annual “10 Most Fascinating People” broadcasts, featuring many of the year’s biggest celebrities and newsmakers.
Speaking to Oprah Winfrey at the time, Walters said she wanted to leave “20/20” to see more of the world.
“I’ve worked all my life, and I’ve never had time to go to a city or country where I haven’t been in the studio,” she said. “I watched [a primetime special about Oprah’s work in South Africa] not just with tears but with yearning. I’ve been to China four times — but I’ve never really seen China.”
During an appearance on “The View” in 2013, she announced her intention to retire from television the following year.
“I want instead to sit in a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — OK, some men too — who will be taking my place,” she said at the time.
Walters won dozens of awards throughout her career, including the Overseas Press Club’s highest award, a Daytime Emmy for “The View,” and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. There’s also a wax figure of her at Madame Tussauds in New York City, and a star with her name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
For her final day on “The View” in 2014, female journalists from across the decades and networks joined her on stage. The guest list included Jane Pauley, Katie Couric, Gayle King, Savannah Guthrie, Deborah Norville, Connie Chung and many others.
“This is my legacy… these are my legacy,” Walters said as she looked around at the women.