Barbara Walters, the most legendary female newsperson of all time, died Friday at 93. She had suffered from dementia for several years.
Born September 25, 1929, Walters was the daughter of Lou Walters, who managed the Latin Quarter nightclub, produced Ziegfield Follies of 1943 and worked extensively in Las Vegas, providing a colorful and stimulating backdrop for Walters's upbringing.
After graduating Sarah Lawrence College in 1951, she immediately sought work in the broadcast field. Her first job was at an NBC affiliate in NYC, WNBT-TV, in publicity. She produced Ask the Camera (1953) starring Roone Arledge (1931-2002) and for Igor Cassini (1915-2002), but left the latter job due to sexual harassment.
She worked at Tex McCrary and wrote for Redbook, joining Today in 1961. Pre-feminism, she was branded the show's "Today Girl," but wound up reporting and editing and writing for the series, moving up to become a film editor for NBC News.
Doing interviews on Today for years, she was named co-host — the first woman in the position — in 1974, only after the death of her sexist co-host.
Walters broke more ground in 1976 when she was named co-anchor of The ABC Evening News, much to the chagrin of co-anchor Harry Reasoner (1923-1991). This lasted for two years, during which time she was parodied by Gilda Radner (1946-1989) on Saturday Night Live for her famous speech impediment, rendering her "Baba Wawa." The impression was picked up by SNL's Cheri Oteri (b. 1962) in the '90s.
She rejoined NBC in 1979, and with former co-worker Hugh Downs (1921-2020) co-hosted the pop newsmagazine 20/20, where her introductory, "I'm Barbara Walters, and this ... is 20/20," became a signature.
Throughout her career, Walters became known for her inimitable interviewing style. Frequently blunt, she also peppered her homey-looking sit-downs with highly personal inquiries (that are often criticized today) and offbeat queries meant to elicit anything but pat answers from her subjects.
Perhaps most famously, Walters once asked Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003), "What kind of a tree are you?" in response to Hepburn saying, "I'm a very strong, I'm a comer, sort of, you know, thing — tree or something." Walters was ribbed over the question for the rest of her career, even though it was seldom mentioned that Hepburn was the one to say she was a tree.
More pointedly, when Walters asked if Hepburn ever wore a skirt, Hepburn replied dryly, "I have one. Wear it to your funeral."
Among her most famous and/or controversial interviews, which included world leaders and tastemakers, Walters pinned down Fidel Castro (1926-2016), in a piece that humanized the Cuban dictator while still calling him out for his iron fist; Monica Lewinsky (b. 1973), in a searing piece seen by 74 million people in one night; and Kim Kardashian (b. 1980), to whom Walters stated, "You have no talent."
She was also known for her frothy Oscar night specials, and her 10 Most Fascinating People countdown interview specials, annual must-sees.
In 1997, Walters, with business partner Bill Geddie (b. 1955), created the daytime talk show The View, a highly successful venture that included Walters and a row of other opinionated women hashing out the day's events, veering from politics to cooking to sparring with newsmakers. As of 2022, the program remained a juggernaut, having spawned countless memorable moments, most spectacularly an on-air squabble between Rosie O'Donnell (b. 1962) and Elisabeth Hasselbeck (b. 1977).
On May 15, 2014, Walters retired from the show, appearing on shows until 2015, and doing her final on-air interview in December 2015 with Donald Trump (b. 1946) and continuing to contribute to ABC News until 2016, after which time she retired completely and withdrew from the public eye.
Walters was married four times to three men, her second marriage to Lorimar CEO Merv Adelson (1929-2015) ending in divorce in 1992, after which she remained single.
She is survived by a daughter, Jacqueline, with ex-husband Lee Guber (1920-1988). It has been said that Walters' affection for loathsome Roy Cohn (1927-1986) — whom she dated in college — was due to the closeted gay legal mind's assistance when she and Guber adopted Jacqueline.
Other romances included Alan Greenspan (b. 1926), Sen. John Warner (1927-2021), gerontologist Robert Neil Butler (1927-2010) and Sen. Edward Brooke (1919-2015), an extramarital affair that she confessed to in her controversial memoir Audition: A Memoir (2008).
Walters was legendarily tough. Though she and O'Donnell had sparred on The View and about The View over the years, the former host remembered her with a warm photo and the simple words "legend #ripbarbara."
Former The View co-host Star Jones chimed in: "I owe Barbara Walters more than I could ever repay. Rest well sister…mother…friend…colleague…mentor."
More reactions to Walters's passing here.