Barbara Walters, who led the way as the first woman to become a TV news superstar during a career remarkable for its duration and variety, has died aged 93.
The death was announced by her network 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 on Friday night beyond sharing a statement from Bob Iger, the chief executive of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC. During nearly four decades at ABC, and before that at NBC, Ms Walters’ exclusive interviews with rulers, royalty and entertainers brought her celebrity status that ranked with theirs.
She was placed at the forefront of the trend in broadcast journalism that made stars of TV reporters and brought news programmes into the race for higher ratings. Ms Walters made headlines in 1976 as the first female network news anchor, with an unprecedented 1 million dollar (£830,000) annual salary that drew gasps.
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“I never thought I’d be infront of the camera”
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!” Ms 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!” Ms Walters told The Associated Press in 2008.
Walters created The View
In a voice that never lost its trace of her native Boston accent or its substitution of Ws-for-Rs, Ms 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 show 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, Ms 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,” Ms Walters said quietly, “because this is the best.”
Is her cause of death known?
A cause of death has not been announced. Not much has been confirmed aside from simply her passing.
In 2010, Ms Walters had open heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve. The procedure “went well” a spokesperson announced four days later.
She retired from TV four years after the operation.
Paul McCartney leads tributes
Sir Paul McCartney said he and his wife Nancy Shevell are saddened by the death of her “dear” cousin, the “amazing” journalist Barbara Walters. Former Beatles singer Sir Paul, 80, told his followers on Instagram on Saturday: “Nancy and I are so saddened by the news of her dear cousin Barbara Walters’ passing.
“The two of them enjoyed a deep loving relationship over many years and I was proud to share some of those special moments. Barbara was an amazing woman who more than held her own in the early days of male-dominated television and went on to become a worldwide celebrity known for her many perceptive interviews with stars from every walk of life.
“We will miss her but always remember her with great fondness.”
Actress Reece Witherspoon – the star of Big Little Lies, The Morning Show and Legally Blonde – wrote on Twitter: “Barbara Walters always exuded intelligence and grace in every encounter. Her curiosity and kindness came through in every interview. Every time I was interviewed by her, I felt her genuine warmth.”
Dreamgirls actress and singer Jennifer Hudson also told her fans on Twitter that Walters was a “true trailblazer and icon”.
Australian actor and star of musicals Hugh Jackman, best known for his breakthrough role as superhero Wolverine in the X-Men film series, said he and his wife – the actress and producer Deborra-Lee Furness – are both “sad” at the news.
He added: “She was a trail blazer (sp), wickedly funny, generous, open hearted and a good friend. She also gave some of the most memorable dinner parties we’ve ever been to. Get ready heaven, Barbara’s coming to spice things up.”