The One And Only Barbara Walters Has Died At 93

December 31, 2022 / Posted by:

Sadly, it feels like this time of year is when we lose many legends. And yesterday, we lost yet another icon who redefined every synonym for trailblazer. Barbara Walters died at her home yesterday. Her spokesperson confirmed the news with this statement:

“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.”

Barbara Walters was 93.

After the news of Barbara Walters’ death broke, I went through my Twitter timeline and was taken on a slow walk down Barbara Walters’ Memory Lane and stopped to watch clip after clip from her 60-plus year career. I was once again reminded that for a long time, Barbara Walters was THEE face of TV journalism for me, and she interviewed absolutely everyone from every POTUS since Richard Nixon to the Jersey Shore tricks. There are so many legendary moments from Barbara Walters’ interviews throughout the decades, and they range from great to bad to cringeworthy to charming to insightful to hilarious. I don’t know if there was ever a question that Barbara Walters was too afraid to ask.

Barbara Walters was born in Boston on September 25, 1929. Barbara’s father, Lou Walters, was a booking agent, Broadway producer, and owner of the Latin Quarter nightclub in NYC. Because Barbara’s father was in show business, she got her first glimpse of celebrity early on. Roy Cohn was a family friend, and she later was his beard in college (they dated). She also testified as a character witness on behalf of Roy Cohn in 1986 when he was disbarred.

After Barbara got her Bachelor of Arts in English from Sarah Lawrence College, she got a job writing press releases at NBC affiliate WNBT-TV in NYC. Barbara quickly went from writing press releases to producing segments and shows. In 1961, Barbara joined The Today Show as a writer and researcher. Today is also where Barbara went from behind the camera to in front of it. Barbara followed Florence Henderson, Estelle Parsons, and Lee Meriwether as a Today Girl. The Today Girl covered the weather and soft news. Below is Barbara’s first appearance on Today, where she gave a report on Paris Fashion Week. It’s obvious that she’s dripping with excitement over covering this fluff!

Within a year, Barbara was doing more serious stories. Barbara’s future 20/20 co-host Hugh Downs was the host of Today at the time, and they had a good relationship. But when Hugh Downs left the show in 1971 and was replaced by Franke McGee, things got difficult at Today for her. Frank refused to do joint interviews with Barbara unless he got to ask the first three questions. Barbara wasn’t named co-anchor of Today until after Frank’s death in 1974. She stayed on as co-anchor of Today for two years. That’s when she broke up with the peacock and went on over to ABC News.

Barbara became the first female anchor of ABC News when she co-anchored ABC World News from 1976 to 1978. A year later, Barbara Walters joined Hugh Downs at 20/20, which I can’t help but NOT read in Barbara Walters’ voice. THIS. IS. TWEN-TEE TWEN-TEE! Barbara was a correspondent on 20/20 from 1979 to 1984 when she was finally named a co-anchor, and the dynamic duo of Hugh Downs and Barbara Waters was born. The 20/20 union of Downs & Walters was an important era. When I was a teenager, one of the highlights of my week was watching 20/20 with my mom on Friday nights. It made me feel so smart. While other teens were getting drunk on their parents’ wine coolers stolen from the fridge, I was learning about THE WORLD thanks to Barbara Walters. Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters co-anchored 20/20 for 15 years until he left in 1999. Barbara was the sole anchor of 20/20 until 2004. On top of co-anchoring 20/20, Barbara hosted interview specials for ABC News, and some of them were must-see events. Some of Barbara’s most famous interviews include the ones with Fidel Castro, Michael Jackson, Christopher Reeve, Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Laurence Olivier, and many world leaders. If there was an interview to “GET,” Barbara was going to move mountains to get it. One of Barbara’s most memorable interviews is her 1981 chat with Katharine Hepburn. Three years before Scarlett Johansson sprouted from a tree farm in Asia, Barbara Walters asked Katharine Hepburn, “What kind of tree are you?” And people gave Barbara shit for it for years, but honestly, asking the question was worth Katharine’s answer:

During that same interview, Barbara also asked Katharine if she ever wear skirts. Well, don’t be surprised if you spot the glorious sight of Katharine Hepburn’s ghost sashaying into Barbara Walters’ funeral while working a pair of pants because Katharine’s answer was, “I have one. I’ll wear it to your funeral.”

One of Barbara’s most-watched interviews was her 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky. Nearly 74 million people watched the interview:

Not to mention this important moment in TV interview history when Barbara talked to V. Stiviano, the mistress of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling who was banned from the NBA for life for spewing racist crap. It’s shocking that noted silly rabbit, the Trix rabbit, didn’t sue V. Stiviano for this.

In 1997, Barbara created The View because she felt television needed a show where women from different walks of life got together to talk (and SCREAM, although I’m not sure if that’s what Barbara had in mind) about current events. The View, of course, became a hit, a pop culture fixture, and a meme machine. Barbara was a co-host on The View until 2014. From 2014 to 2015, Barbara continued to do specials and interviews. Her last public appearance was in 2016. She reportedly battled dementia in her final years.

While many praise Barbara Walters’ interviewing style, there have been interviews that received more than just a side-eye. Recently, Brooke Shields called her 1980 interview with Barbara “practically criminal” since Barbara asked a then 15-year-old Brooke about her measurements. And there was the extremely messy 2013 interview with Corey Feldman where Barbara accused him of trying to ruin showbusiness with his accusations of pedophilia in Hollywood. People also felt that Barbara was unfair to and judged Monica during their interview. Monica remembered Barbara on Twitter and said that they stayed friends throughout the years, and Barbara once gave her some advice:

Throughout her career, Barbara regularly talked about her older sister Jacqueline, who was born with developmental disabilities and died of ovarian cancer in 1984. Barbara wrote in her memoir, Audition, that part of her drive to succeed was fueled by the fact that she knew she would have to care for her sister. via ABC News:

“Her condition also altered my life,” Walters wrote. “I think I knew from a very early age that at some point Jackie would become my responsibility. That awareness was one of the main reasons I was driven to work so hard. But my feelings went beyond financial responsibility.

“Much of the need I had to prove myself, to achieve, to provide, to protect, can be traced to my feelings about Jackie. But there must be something more, the ‘Something’ that makes one need to excel,” she added. “Some may call it ambition. I can live with that. Some may call it insecurity, although that is such a boring, common label, like being called shy, that means little. But as I look back, it feels to me that my life has been one long audition — an attempt to make a difference and to be accepted.”

Barbara was married four times, twice to TV mogul Merv Adelson. Barbara and her second husband, theater producer Lee Gruber, adopted a daughter in 1968 after she suffered several miscarriages. They named her Jacqueline “Jackie” Dena Guber after her sister.

And I cannot end this post without mentioning Barbara Walters’ place as a pop culture icon. Saturday Night Live gave us two memorable Barbara Walter parodies, one from Gilda Radner and one from Cheri Oteri. Barbara later said that at first, she was annoyed by Gilda Radner’s Bawa Wawa bit but got over it after she walked into her daughter’s bedroom one night and found Jackie laughing at a Bawa Wawa skit. After Barbara let Jackie know how frustrating Gilda’s impersonation of her was, Jackie told her to lighten up, and so she did!

Since Barbara was a glass ceiling-breaking TV legend, many have paid tribute to her for paving the way:

Pic: ABC News via Getty Images

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