Newswoman Barbara Walters is seen on NBC-TV's Today Show on June 3, 1976. Walters, a superstar and pioneer in TV news, has died, according to ABC News on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022.
Newswoman Barbara Walters is seen on NBC-TV's Today Show on June 3, 1976. Walters, a superstar and pioneer in TV news, has died, according to ABC News on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Barbara Walters, the US television personality who helped define the news with interviews that often conferred celebrity as much as they revealed it, has died. She was 93.

Her death was reported by her longtime employer, ABC News. Bob Iger, chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co., ABC's parent company, said Walters died Friday evening at her home in New York.

Walters spent more than a half-century on network television, as a host of NBC's Today and ABC's 20/20 programs, as well as frequent specials such as her annual 10 Most Fascinating People show.

Late in her career, Walters had another success with The View, a daytime talk show that features a panel of women discussing issues of the day and interviewing newsmakers. She founded the program in 1997 and was one of the hosts until 2014. It's the most-watched daytime talk show across both network and syndication, Variety reported in August.

"Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself," Iger said in a statement. "She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state to the biggest celebrities and sports icons."

A cultural touchstone whom "Saturday Night Live" lampooned as "Baba Wawa" for her lisp, she was America's most enduring celebrity interviewer. Presidents and queens, movie stars and artists, criminals and victims all submitted to her questioning. She was renowned for evoking tears and unexpected revelations from her interviewees.

A list of her subjects reads like an All-Star roster of the past 50 years. She interviewed every US president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, as well as the Shah of Iran, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and Cuba's Fidel Castro, twice. In 1977, as they spoke aboard a boat, she asked Castro, "Do you feel funny crossing the Bay of Pigs with an American?"

'Lucky' Career

"In this time of instant Internet news, cell phones that take videos, and a profusion of blogs where everyone is a reporter, there will be little chance for any single person to have the kind of career that I've had," Walters wrote in her 2008 memoir. "If I was, perhaps, atop of the game, I also had the advantage of being ahead of the game. How lucky I was."

Her annual Oscars-night show became a coronation for Hollywood stars, including Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood and Cher.

Murderers, too, could become celebrities in her hands. Walters broadcast interviews with Mark David Chapman, John Lennon's assassin, and Jean Harris, the head of an exclusive private school who was convicted of killing her lover, the prominent cardiologist and best-selling author Herman Tarnower.

In 1999, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky told Walters of her affair with President Bill Clinton: "Sometimes I have warm feelings, sometimes I'm proud of him still, and sometimes I hate his guts."

"What will you tell your children, when you have them?" Walters asked.

"Mommy made a big mistake."

Walters countered, "And that is the understatement of the year."

The show was seen by 74 million people, making it at the time the most widely viewed news program ever aired by a single network.

Double Dating

Her penchant for celebrity revelations, blending personality with news, extended to her own life, which didn't always match her TV persona as a protector of social mores.

Thrice divorced, Walters revealed in her memoir an affair, starting in 1973, with then-Senator Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts.

She also revealed that she simultaneously dated Alan "Ace" Greenberg, then a partner at investment bank Bear Stearns and later its chairman and chief executive, and the "soft-spoken" Alan Greenspan, then President Gerald Ford's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Having worked in TV production for several years, Walters moved in front of the camera for good in 1964 on NBC's Today show. Her reputation soared among viewers and also newsmakers. They liked talking to Walters, who seemed to have a knack for building trust with the powerful and famous.

In 1971, she scored a rare on-camera solo interview with President Nixon, who took her along on his trip the following year to initiate diplomacy with the People's Republic of China.

Barbara Jill Walters was born on Sept. 25, 1929, in Boston. Her mother was the former Dena Selett. Her father, Lou Walters, was a vaudevillian impresario who founded the Latin Quarter, one of the nation's top nightclubs.

In the 1940s, the family moved to Manhattan, where she attended private schools. In 1953, she received a bachelor's degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York.

After her father sold the nightclub in 1957 and then lost his fortune, Walters was her family's main source of support, she wrote.

Walters signed a five-year contract for $1 million a year with ABC Evening News in 1976, which made her the first female network news co-anchor. The salary, more than double any other network anchor's, made headlines.

ABC co-anchor Harry Reasoner and Walters never gelled as a team. Ratings stagnated and she left the program in 1978.

Undaunted, Walters joined ABC's 20/20, where she worked as co-host with her old Today show colleague Hugh Downs. She stayed at the program for about 25 years.

Her three marriages ended in divorce. Walters and her second husband, Lee Guber, adopted a daughter, Jacqueline.