Barbara Walters, superstar and television news pioneer, dies at 93

The broadcasting legend was also created and appeared on daytime talk show ‘The View’

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NEW YORK — Barbara Walters, the intrepid interviewer, anchor and program host who paved the way as the first woman to become a TV news superstar during a network career notable for its length and variety, died. She was 93 years old.

Walters’ death was announced by ABC on the air Friday night.

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“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully in her home surrounded by her loved ones. She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not just for female journalists, but for all women,” her publicist Cindi Berger also said in a statement. communicated.

An ABC spokesperson had no immediate comment Friday night beyond sharing a statement from Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.

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For nearly four decades at ABC, and before that at NBC, Walters’ exclusive interviews with executives, royalty and entertainers brought her celebrity status that ranked with theirs, while placing her at the vanguard of the trend in broadcast journalism that made stars into television journalists. and brought news programs into the race for higher ratings.

Walters made headlines in 1976 as the first women’s network news anchor, with an unprecedented $1 million annual salary that made people gasp. Her dynamism was legendary as she competed — not just with rival networks, but with colleagues from her own network — for every big “get” in a world jammed with more and more interviewers, including female journalists who followed the trail she traced.

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« I did not expect that ! » Walters said in 2004, taking the measure of his success. “I always thought I would be a television writer. I never even thought I would be in front of a camera.

But she was natural in front of the camera, especially when she asked questions to the notables.

« I’m not afraid when I interview, I’m not afraid! » Walters told The Associated Press in 2008.

In a voice that never lost track of his native Boston accent or his substitution of Ws-for-Rs, Walters launched direct and sometimes dizzying questions at each topic, often coating them in hushed speech. and reverent.

“Off screen, do you love each other? she once asked actor John Wayne, while Lady Bird Johnson was asked if she was jealous of her late husband’s reputation as a ladies’ man.

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Late in her career, in 1997, she put a new spin on infotainment with « The View, » a live ABC weekday kaffee klatsch with an all-female panel for whom any topic was on the table and hosted guests ranging from world leaders to teenagers. idols. A side adventure and unexpected hit, Walters considered “The View” the “dessert” of his career.

In May 2014, she taped her final episode of « The View » amid many ceremonies and a gathering of dozens of luminaries to end a five-decade career in television (although she continued to do occasional television appearances thereafter). During a commercial break, a host 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.

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« I have to remember it on the bad days, » Walters said calmly, « because it’s the best. »

His career began without such signs of majesty.

In 1961, NBC hired her for a short-term writing project on the « Today » show. Soon after, what was seen as the symbolic woman’s place among the eight staff writers opened up, and Walters got the job. Then she started making occasional appearances on the air with offbeat stories like “A Day in the Life of a Nun” or The Tribulations of a Playboy Bunny. For the latter, she donned bunny ears and high heels to work at the Playboy Club.

As she appeared more frequently, she was spared the « Today » Girl title that had been attached to her token female predecessors. But she had to pay her dues, sometimes sprinting across the « Today » set between interviews to do dog food commercials.

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She had the first interview with Rose Kennedy after the assassination of her son, Robert, as well as 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 Shah’s gala evening. But it faced a setback in 1971 with the arrival of a new animator, Frank McGee. Although they could share the office, he insisted that she wait for him to ask her three questions before he could open his mouth in joint interviews with « powerful people ».

Sensing that greater freedom and opportunities awaited her outside the studio, she hit the road and produced more exclusive interviews for the program, including Nixon’s chief of staff, HR Haldeman.

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By 1976, she had earned the title of « Today » co-host and earned $700,000 a year. But when ABC signed her to a five-year, $5 million deal, the salary figure called her a « million-dollar baby. »

Reports on her deal did not note that her duties would be split between the network’s entertainment division (for which she was to do special interviews) and ABC News, then mired in third place. Meanwhile, Harry Reasoner, his veteran ‘ABC Evening News’ co-anchor, was reportedly unhappy with his high salary and celebrity orientation.

« Harry didn’t want a partner, » Walters summed up. « Even though he was awful to me, I don’t think he hated me. »

It wasn’t just the shaky relationship with her co-anchor that got Walters in trouble.

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Comedian Gilda Radner satirized her on the new « Saturday Night Live » as a rhotacistic commentator named « Baba Wawa ». And after her interview with a newly elected president, Jimmy Carter, in which Walters told Carter « be good with us, » CBS correspondent Morley Safer publicly derided her as « the first female pope to bless the new cardinal. « .

It was a period that seemed to mark the end of everything she had worked for, she later recalled.

« I thought it was all over: ‘How stupid of me to ever leave NBC!’

But salvation came in the form of a new boss, ABC News President Roone Arledge, who moved her out of the co-anchor slot and into special projects for ABC News. During this time, she found success with her quarterly primetime specials. She became a frequent contributor to ABC’s current affairs magazine « 20/20 », teaming up with then-host Hugh Downs, and in 1984 became a co-host. A perennial favorite was his « 10 Most Fascinating People » review of the year.

Walters is survived by his only daughter, Jacqueline Danforth.

– Moore, a longtime Associated Press television writer who retired in 2017, was the lead author of this obituary. Associated Press reporter Stefanie Dazio contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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