Barbara Walters, an iconic broadcast journalist who broke down barriers for women in media, died Friday, according to ABC News. She was 93.
In a career that spanned more than five decades, Walters established herself as one of the most prominent and respected broadcasters on television. She made history when she became the co-host of “ABC Evening News” in 1976, marking the first time a woman co-hosted an evening news network on national television.
She was most known for her time as a co-host of ABC’s “20/20,” a role she held for 25 years. In that time, she interviewed some of the world’s most influential and controversial leaders, celebrities and political figures ― including former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, actor Katharine Hepburn and pop icon Michael Jackson ― in often emotional and intense segments.
She has also interviewed every American president since Richard Nixon. (She interviewed Donald Trump and Melania Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign and interviewed Joe Biden in 2014, when he was vice president.)
Walters went on to co-found the daytime talk show “The View,” which premiered in 1997 and featured a panel of female co-hosts.
“It was a simple idea: four women of different generations and different personalities and different opinions sitting together and talking,” she said in a 2012 interview with Makers. “Not women trying to outdo each other, but being able to have these different discussions and arguments and liking each other.”
But to reach this level of success and set her status as a boundary-breaking journalist, she spent years fighting to be heard. She faced persistent sexism early in her career during a time when men dominated the news industry.
“I remember sending a memo to the president, then, of NBC News saying, ‘Shouldn’t we do something on the women’s movement?’ And scrawled on the top of my memo, it said, ‘Not enough interest.’”
– Barbara Walters
Walters began working in front of a camera at “Today” on NBC, at first covering lighter assignments — which she called “tea-pouring interviews” — and weather reports as the show’s “Today Girl.” She eventually was permitted to do research and writing for news shows, and became the program’s first female co-anchor in 1974.
“I remember sending a memo to the president, then, of NBC News saying, ‘Shouldn’t we do something on the women’s movement?’” she recalled in the Makers interview. “And scrawled on the top of my memo, it said, ‘Not enough interest.’”
She left NBC News two years later to co-host “ABC Evening News” with Harry Reasoner, becoming the first female evening co-anchor in history.
“I was co-anchors with a man, Harry Reasoner, who couldn’t accept me,” Walters said of her ABC Evening News co-host in 2012.
“I would walk into that studio and Harry would be sitting with the stagehands and they’d all crack jokes and ignore me. No one would talk to me,” she added. “It was so lonely, and I was failing. And I read about it in every paper and magazine.”
At the time, Time magazine described Walter’s move to prime time as “the furthest advance of the women’s movement in television” in an article titled “Will the Morning Star Shine at Night?”
Shine she did: When she moved to ABC, Walters became the first female news anchor to make a $1 million annual salary.
“Overnight I became the million-dollar news baby, having been proffered a salary that, on the surface, was at least twice that of anyone else in the news business, including Walter Cronkite,” Walters wrote in her 2008 memoir, “Audition.”
“Almost every television journalist, including Harry Reasoner, walked into his boss’s office, demanded a raise, and got it,” she wrote. “Well, you’re welcome.”
“We all recognize that had it not been for her, we would not have had a shoulder to stand on. We all now get to glide across that road that she literally laid brick by brick for us.”
– Oprah Winfrey
Walters consistently secured some of the most highly sought-after subjects in news for “Today,” “ABC Evening News,” “20/20,” and later for “The View” and her annual special “Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People.”
She famously sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for a joint interview in 1977, as the two foreign leaders began talks for a historic peace deal.
Walters retired from on-air news in May 2014, but she returned for occasional specials in the years that followed, including to interview the Trumps during the 2016 election cycle.
Walters won three Daytime Emmy awards (she was nominated for 31), one Primetime Emmy (out of 11 nominations) and seven News and Documentary Emmys.
Walters’ legacy of telling incisive, entertaining stories with compassion and poise inspired women to excel in an industry where they were once not welcome.
“I was 16 years old, saw her on television, got the inspiration to think, ‘Maybe I could do that,’” Oprah Winfrey told E! News in 2014. “For the first year of my television career, [I] actually created this façade of pretending to be Barbara Walters and trying to sit and talk and act like her. … We all recognize that had it not been for her, we would not have had a shoulder to stand on. We all now get to glide across that road that she literally laid brick by brick for us.”
Changing the way the news industry thought of women was important to Walters.
“I have affected the way women are regarded, and that’s important to me,” she told Bloomberg Businessweek in August 2013. “If I have done stories and interviews that have in the past been done by men, and I opened the door a little bit, and now it’s taken for granted, that would be a legacy I could be proud of.”
Judah Robinson and Jackson Connor contributed to this report.