Barbara Walters, the intrepid interviewer, anchor and program host who led the way as the first woman to become a TV news superstar during a network career remarkable for its duration and variety, has died. She was 93.
Walters’ death was announced by ABC on air 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,” her publicist Cindi Berger also said in a statement.
An ABC spokesperson did not have an immediate comment Friday night beyond sharing a statement from Bob Iger, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.
During nearly four decades at ABC, and before that at NBC, Walters’ exclusive interviews with rulers, royalty and entertainers brought her celebrity status that ranked with theirs, while placing her at the forefront of the trend in broadcast journalism that made stars of TV reporters and brought news programs into the race for higher ratings.
Walters made headlines in 1976 as the first female network news anchor, with an unprecedented $1 million annual salary that drew gasps. Her drive was legendary as she competed — not just with rival networks, but with colleagues at her own network — for each big “get” in a world jammed with more and more interviewers, including female journalists who followed the trail she blazed.
“I never expected this!” Walters said in 2004, taking measure of her success. “I always thought I’d be a writer for television. I never even thought I’d be in front of a camera.”
But she was a natural on camera, especially when plying notables with questions.
“I’m not afraid when I’m interviewing, I have no fear!” Walters told The Associated Press in 2008.
In a voice that never lost its trace of her native Boston accent or its substitution of Ws-for-Rs, Walters lobbed blunt and sometimes giddy questions at each subject, often sugarcoating them with a hushed, reverential delivery.
“Offscreen, do you like you?” she once asked actor John Wayne, while Lady Bird Johnson was asked whether she was jealous of her late husband’s reputation as a ladies’ man.
Late in her career, in 1997, she gave infotainment a new twist with “The View,” a live ABC weekday kaffee klatsch with an all-female panel for whom any topic was on the table and who welcomed guests ranging from world leaders to teen idols. A side venture and unexpected hit, Walters considered “The View” the “dessert” of her career.
In May 2014, she taped her final episode of “The View” amid much ceremony and a gathering of scores of luminaries to end a five-decade career in television (although she continued to make occasional TV appearances after that). During a commercial break, a throng of TV newswomen she had paved the way for — including Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts and Connie Chung — posed with her for a group portrait.
“I have to remember this on the bad days,” Walters said quietly, “because this is the best.”