Walters was the first woman to become a TV news superstar, interviewing rulers, royalty and entertainers for decades.
Barbara Walters, one of the most visible women on American television as the first female host of a U.S. evening network newscast and one of television’s most prominent interviewers, has passed away at the age of 93.
The American television channel ABC broke into the broadcast to announce Walters’ death on air Friday night.
“She lived her life without regrets. She was a pioneer not only for women journalists, but for all women,” her publicist Cindi Berger also said in a statement, adding that Walters died peacefully at her New York home.
The circumstances of her death were not given.
Walters had spent nearly 40 years at ABC, and before that at NBC, where she interviewed rulers, royalty, and entertainers, propelling her to celebrity status and putting her at the forefront of a trend that made television reporters stars.
“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not only for women in journalism, but for journalism itself,” said Bob Iger, the CEO of ABC parent company The Walt Disney Company.
Walters interviewed a slew of world leaders, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, Libya’s ruler Muammar Gaddafi, Iraq’s ruler Saddam Hussein, Russian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and every US president and first lady since Richard and Pat Nixon .
“I never thought I’d have a life like this,” Walters said in a 2004 Chicago Tribune interview. “I’ve met everyone in the world. I’ve probably met more people, more heads of state, more important people, even almost than any president, because they’ve only had eight years.”
In 1976, Walters made headlines as the first female network news anchor, earning an unprecedented $1 million salary at ABC. At the end of her career, she took infotainment in a new direction with The View, a live ABC weekday show featuring an all-female panel that covered every topic and welcomed guests ranging from world leaders to teen idols.
A statement from the show said Walters created The View in 1997 “to defend women’s voices”.
“We are proud to be part of her legacy,” it added.
In May 2014, Walters taped her final episode of The View in much ceremony to end a five-decade career in television, but she continued to make occasional TV appearances.
Walters graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1943 and eventually landed a temporary behind-the-scenes assignment on NBC’s Today show in 1961. She then began getting airtime on unusual stories, such as a day in the life of a nun or the trials of a Playboy bunny, and became a regular on the program.
She had the first interview with Rose Kennedy after the assassination of her son Robert, as well as Princess Grace of Monaco and President Richard Nixon. She traveled to India with Jacqueline Kennedy, to China with Nixon, and to Iran to cover the Shah’s gala.
In 1977, she scored a joint interview with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin before they made peace.
Walters became so prominent that her star quality sometimes overshadowed the people she interviewed. The New York Times called her “arguably America’s best-known television personality”, but also noted that “what we remember most about an interview with Barbara Walters is Barbara Walters”.
Critics thought she was pathetic at times, but she could also be blunt, such as asking Martha Stewart, the lifestyle guru who ended up in jail on an insider trading case, “Martha, why do so many people hate you?”