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Trailblazing Journalist Barbara Walters Passes at 93

Barbara Walters
Courtesy of The Walt Disney Company

Barbara Walters, trailblazing journalist and Disney Legend, has passed away on December 30, 2022, at age 93.

Her Early Years

Barbara Jill Walters was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 25, 1929, to Dena and Lou Walters.

She earned a B.A. in English from Sarah Lawrence College, after which she joined NBC New York affiliate WRCA-TV, where she became a writer and the affiliate’s youngest producer.

Her abilities and experience in research, writing, filming, and editing soon earned her a job as news and public affairs producer for CBS.

In 1961, she went back to NBC as a writer for the Today show, and within a year became a reporter-at-large.

She became a co-host of the program without the official title in 1963, and sadly, it wasn’t until 1974 that NBC formally designated her as the program’s first female co-host.

Her Home at ABC

Two years later, in 1976, Walters joined ABC as the first woman to co-host the network news. Through the years she interviewed such world figures as Boris Yeltsin, Premier Jiang Zemin, Margaret Thatcher, Muammar Gaddafi, and Sadaam Hussein.

She holds the distinction of having interviewed every American president and first lady since Richard Nixon, and made journalism history with the first joint interview with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin in 1977.

In 1979, Walters became a co-host of “20/20,” a position she held until 2004 when she left the show. She still remained an active member of the ABC news division and the network, though.

In 1997, she created, co-produced, and co-hosted the daytime talk show “The View,” which is still on the air. She made her final appearance as a co-host of “The View” in 2014, but remained an executive producer of the show and continued to do some interviews and specials for ABC News.

Her Accolades

Over the course of her career, which spanned over five decades, Walters won 12 Emmy awards, 11 of those while at ABC News.

She has been the recipient of numerous others honors, including induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, and receiver of the ATAS Lifetime Achievement Award.

She was honored in 2001 with a wax portrait of her likeness at Madame Tussauds in New York City, and in 2007 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

She also became a Disney Legend in 2008, as seen in the photo below with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Throughout her career, Walters has paved the way for many female journalists, and Oprah Winfrey summed it up while presenting Walters with her Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

“Had there not been Barbara Walters, surely all of the other women who have followed in her footsteps, including myself, could not stand where we stand and do what we do in this industry today,” Winfrey said.

It’s a sentiment she echoed in her rememberance of Walters yesterday:

Part of the ABC News Headquarters in New York was renamed “The Barbara Walters Building” in May 2014. During the ceremony, hosted by Iger, Walters remarked, “People ask me very often, ‘what is your legacy?’ and it’s not the interviews with presidents, or heads of state, nor celebrities. If I have a legacy, and I’ve said this before and I mean it so sincerely, I hope that I played a small role in paving the way for so many of you fabulous women.”

Iger Pays Tribute

Disney CEO Bob Iger posted a heartfelt memoriam to his friend upon learning of her passing:

“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism, but for journalism itself.

She was a one-of-a kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from the 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.”

I’d like to add a personal note to this: As a journalist in the mid-80s I really looked up to Barbara Walters as an example of what I could accomplish in my field, if I chose to. I will forever be grateful for the roads she created and the ceilings she smashed. RIP Barbara!