Pioneering Journalist Barbara Walters Dies at 93

Dana Reeve Memorial Service

Photo: Getty Images

BURBANK (CNS) - The journalism world lost a legend Friday with the death of Barbara Walters, who was a pioneer for women in the industry and interviewed many of the biggest names of our time during a roughly five-decade career.

Walters -- a staple on ABC on shows including "20/20" and "The View" -- died in New York at age 93, according to the network.

"Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself," Bob Iger, CEO of the Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, 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 and leaders of regimes to the biggest celebrities and sports icons. I had the pleasure of calling Barbara a colleague for more than three decades, but more importantly, I was able to call her a dear friend. She will be missed by all of us at The Walt Disney Company, and we send our deepest condolences to her daughter, Jacqueline."

Walters had been largely out of the public eye in recent years. She stepped down as a co-host of "The View" in 2014, but continued to work on the program. ABC noted that upon her departure as a co-host, she said, `I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain. I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women -- and OK, some men too -- who will be taking my place.

Born Sept. 25, 1931, in Boston and raised in New York City and Miami Beach, Walters began her broadcasting career as a producer with WNBC-TV in New York City, then became a writer for CBS News.

Walters joined NBC's "Today" show as a writer and researcher in 1961. Within a year, she became a reporter at large. She became the show's first female co-host in 1963, but didn't get the title until 1974.

In 1976, Walters signed a contract paying her a record $1 million a year to become an anchor of the "ABC Evening News," the first woman to anchor a nightly network newscast. After two years of continued low ratings, Walters was dropped as the anchor.

In 1979, Walters joined her former "Today" show colleague Hugh Downs as a host of the primetime news magazine "20/20," a post she would keep until 2004.

Walters was credited with interviewing more leaders and entertainers than anyone else in broadcast history, including every U.S. president and first lady from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. ABC noted that she interviewed Donald and Melania Trump before his election as president.

She won 12 Emmy Awards during her career and was known for landing interviews that eluded many other journalists.

Her most significant interview was in 1977, when she arranged for the first joint interview of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minster Menachem Begin, which helped lead to a peace treaty between the two nations.

Walters also has the distinction of being responsible for the highest- rated news program broadcast by a single network, a 1999 interview with Clinton White House staff member Monica S. Lewinsky, seen by 74 million viewers.

Walters' last question to Lewinsky, whose affair with then-President Bill Clinton led to his subsequent perjured testimony and impeachment, was "What will you tell your children about this matter?"

Lewinsky replied, "I guess `Mommy made some mistakes."'

Walters closed the broadcast by turning to viewers and saying, "And that is the understatement of the century."

Walters was also known for her "Barbara Walters Specials," and annual pre-Oscar and "The 10 Most Fascinating People" specials.

Walters received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007, with Iger among those attending the event.

"To me this award is an Emmy and an Oscar and a Tony all in one, and I will walk taller and prouder from this day on," Walters said during the ceremony.

Her death prompted a host of tributes from the journalism world and beyond.

"Barbara Walters was an American institution," actress Lynda Carter wrote on her Twitter page Friday night. "As the first female national news anchor, she opened the door to endless possibilities for so many girls who wanted to work in TV, myself included. Her impact cannot be overstated."

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