Barbara Walters could talk to anyone, and between 1976 and 2015, she did. From world leaders — including 10 sitting American presidents — to celebrities like Lucille Ball, Barbra Streisand and John Wayne, to newsmakers like Monica Lewinsky, whose interview drew a record 74 million viewers, Barbara questioned — and frequently made cry — anyone who was anyone. “She was charming, witty,” recalls Monica today.
Even as Barbara blazed a trail for future generations, she faced the same hurdles of finding a healthy balance between her professional and private life that every busy person does. The four-times divorced newswoman, who died on December 30, 2022, at age 93, admitted that her career came before any man, but she did put her whole heart into her relationship with her daughter, Jacqueline Danforth, 54, whom she adopted in 1968. “Barbara adored her, and they were close,” a friend tells Closer. “Of course, they had their differences — but Jackie was there for her in the end.”
Barbara believed that her ambition stemmed from her unstable childhood. The younger daughter of supper club impresario Lou Walters, Barbara lived with her family in rundown rented apartments or luxurious penthouses — depending on the frequent rise and fall of her father’s finances. “Throughout my life, my father made and lost several fortunes in show business,” said Barbara in her memoir, Audition. Her older sister, Jacqueline, was mentally disabled, leaving Barbara feeling responsible for the well-being of her entire family from a young age. “My insecurity led me to be a workaholic, to eat lunch at my desk, never to miss a day of work,” confessed Barbara, who became a writer for Today after flirting with acting, public relations and publishing.
She credited her sister, who died of ovarian cancer in 1985, with helping her to relate to others. “She taught me compassion and understanding,” said Barbara, who honed her highly personal interview style chatting with Judy Garland, Truman Capote and Rose Kennedy, among others, for Today in those early years.
In addition to the empathy that made her such a great interviewer, Barbara learned how to wrestle with the boys. When she broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first female coanchor of the evening news, with a salary of $1 million a year, her deskmate Harry Reasoner “was really awful to me on and off the air,” revealed Barbara, who only dug in deeper.
She became a longtime anchor on the ABC Evening News, a contributor to 20/20, and the host of the annual Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People specials. In 1997, Barbara created The View, the first daytime talk show hosted by a diverse panel of women.
In her personal life, Barbara married four times to three different men, dated at least two senators and regretted turning down Clint Eastwood. “He asked me if I wanted to have dinner, and I said, ‘No, I have to work,’ ” she said of their 1982 flirtation.
The greatest love of her life was her daughter, Jacqueline, whom she named after her sister when she adopted her with her second husband, Lee Guber. “I had had three miscarriages,” Barbara explained.
There were tears and growing pains for mother and daughter. “I never felt like I fit into her world,” admitted Jacqueline, who as a teenager became addicted to drugs and ran away from home. Barbara suffered, too. “I was so busy with a career. It’s the age-old problem,” she said. “I wish I had spent more time with my Jackie.”
The pair grew closer even before Barbara’s retirement in 2015. In her final years, Barbara, who was diagnosed with dementia, lived quietly in her New York City apartment with views of Central Park. “I want to be remembered by my daughter as a loving mother,” she said. “I want to be remembered by my friends as someone who is loyal. I want to be remembered, in television, maybe as a creator, maybe as a good newswoman. No. More than being remembered, I hope that by younger women, I can help them aspire.”