NEW YORK – Barbara Walters, the intrepid interviewer, anchor and show host who was the first woman in a network career renowned for its duration and diversity, has passed away. The women who became TV news superstars. She is 93 years old.
Walters’ death was announced on-air by ABC on Friday night.
“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones. She lived a life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not just for women journalists, but for all women,” said her publicist Cindi Berger said in a statement.
An ABC spokesman had no immediate comment Friday night, sharing a statement from Bob Iger, chief executive of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.
During her nearly four years on ABC, and before that on NBC, Walters’ celebrity status stood alongside them with exclusive interviews with rulers, royals and entertainers, All the while keeping her at the forefront of trends in broadcast journalism, making TV journalists stars and putting news shows in the race for higher ratings.
Walters hit the headlines in 1976 as the first female network news anchor, earning an impressive $1 million annual salary, an unprecedented one. In a world crowded with ever-growing numbers of interviewers, including female journalists following in the footsteps she blazed, competing not only with rival networks but with colleagues from her own network, her drive is legendary.
“I didn’t expect this!” Walters said in 2004, gauging her success. “I always thought I was going to be a TV writer. I never even thought I’d be in front of the camera.”
But she’s a natural in front of the camera, especially when it comes to quizzing celebrities.
“I’m not afraid when I interview, I’m not afraid of anything!” Walters told The Associated Press in 2008.
With a voice that never loses her native Boston accent or replaces Ws-for-Rs with Ws-for-Rs, Walters asks straightforward, sometimes dizzying questions on each subject, often in a quiet, respectful tone Sugar coat them.
“Offscreen, do you like you?” she once asked actor John Wayne, while Lady Bird Johnson was asked if she was jealous of her late husband’s reputation as a womanizer.
Later in her career, in 1997, she brought a new twist to infotainment with “The View,” a live ABC weekday kaffee klatsch featuring an all-female panel where any topic was on the table. tabletops and welcome guest icons ranging from world leaders to teenage icons. A side project and an unexpected hit, Walters counts “The View” as the “sweet spot” of her career.
In May 2014, she taped her final episode of “The View,” amidst many ceremonies and gatherings of dozens of celebrities, ending a five-year TV career (although she continued to make occasional TV appearances after that). During commercial breaks, she paved the way for a group of female TV news reporters — including Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts and Kang Connie Chung – took a photo with her.
“On bad days, I have to remember that,” Walters said calmly, “because it’s the best.”
There were no signs of such majesty at the start of her career.
In 1961, NBC hired her for a short writing project on its “Today” show. Shortly after, positions deemed token women were opened among eight writers on staff, and Walters got the job. She then began appearing sporadically on the radio, telling offbeat stories like “A Day in the Life of a Nun” or the ordeal of the Playboy Bunny. For the latter, she donned bunny ears and high heels to work at the Playboy Club.
As she appeared more frequently, she dispensed with her symbolic female predecessors from the “Girl of the Day” title. But she has to pay the price, sometimes rushing through the “Today” show to shoot dog food commercials between interviews.
She was interviewed for the first time by Rose Kennedy after her son Robert was assassinated, along with Princess Grace of Monaco, President Richard Nixon and many others. She traveled to India with Jacqueline Kennedy, to China with Nixon, and to Iran to cover the king’s lavish party. But she encountered a setback in 1971 with the arrival of a new host, Frank McGee. Although they could sit at the same table, in a joint interview with a “powerful person,” he insisted that she wait until he asked three questions before she could speak.
Realizing that greater freedom and opportunity awaited her outside the studio, she hit the road and produced more exclusive interviews for the show, including Nixon Chief of Staff HR Haldeman.
By 1976, she was co-anchor of “Today,” earning $700,000 a year. But when ABC signed her to a five-year, $5 million deal, the salary numbers labeled her a “million dollar baby.”
Reports on her deal didn’t note that her job duties would be split between the network’s entertainment arm (for which she was supposed to do an interview special) and ABC News, which then came in third. Meanwhile, her veteran “ABC Nightly News” co-anchor Harry Reasoner is said to be unhappy with her high salary and celebrity orientation.
“Harry doesn’t want a partner,” Walters concluded. “As bad as he was to me, I don’t think he doesn’t like me.”
It wasn’t just a rocky relationship with her co-anchor that caused problems for Walters.
Comedian Gilda Radner teases her as a psychotic commentator named “Baba Wawa” on her new “Saturday Night Live.” And after her interview with a newly elected President Jimmy Carter in which Walters told Carter “be wise with us,” CBS correspondent Morley Safer publicly derided her as “the first female pope blessing the new cardinal.”
That time, she later recalled, seemed to mark the end of everything she had worked so hard for.
“I thought it was over: ‘I was so stupid for leaving NBC!'”
But redemption came in the form of a new boss, ABC News president Roone Arledge, who moved her from the co-anchor position to special projects for ABC News. At the same time, she found success with her quarterly primetime specials. She was a frequent contributor to ABC’s newsmagazine 20/20 and joined forces with then-anchor Hugh Downs, becoming co-anchor in 1984. A perennial favorite is her review of the year’s “10 Most Attractive People.”
Walters is survived by her only daughter, Jacqueline Danforth.
Associated Press reporter Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.