WASHINGTON (AFP) - Pioneering US television journalist Barbara Walters signed off for the last time on Friday, bidding fans a fond farewell but leaving the door just slightly open for a possible comeback.
The ABC day-time talk show "The View" that she has co-hosted since its launch in 1997 dedicated its entire hour to Walters, with surprise guests including Hillary Clinton, Michael Douglas and Oprah Winfrey. "Having had this amazing career, how can I just walk away and say goodbye?" said Walters, 84, who will remain a co-producer of the chatty upbeat programme.
"This way: from the bottom of my heart, to all of you... thank you. But then, who knows what the future brings? Maybe instead of goodbye, I should say, 'a bientot', which in French means, 'See you later'."
In a career that spanned six decades, Walters created a much-copied template for high-profile political and celebrity interviews - and blazed a trail for women in an industry dominated by white middle-aged males. "How proud I am today when I see all the young women who are making and reporting the news," she said. "If I did anything to help that happen, that's my legacy."
Her departure was to be followed later Friday by a two-hour prime-time special charting her career, which began in 1961 when she joined NBC's breakfast news and entertainment show "Today".
Walters became the first female anchor of a US evening news programme when she joined ABC in 1976, and she has interviewed every US president and first lady since Richard Nixon. Her long list of interviewees includes political leaders such as Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin, and A-listers like Michael Jackson, Angelina Jolie and Harrison Ford.
"She did some important things that will go down in television history, including to help break into the old boys' network of broadcast journalism in the United States," said media scholar Robert Thompson at Syracuse University in New York.
Former first lady and secretary of state Clinton was the first guest to appear on Friday's pre-recorded farewell show, where she strongly advised Walters to take some quality time off. On her own future, the potential 2016 presidential hopeful quipped: "I am running - around the park."
Douglas suggested Walters would make an excellent vice-president if Clinton wins the White House, while Winfrey brought the popular broadcaster to near tears by praising her as a source of inspiration.
"When I auditioned for my first television job, I walked in not knowing what to do, so I pretended to be Barbara Walters," recalled Winfrey, today the most powerful African-American in mass media. "I sat like Barbara and crossed my legs like Barbara. I had Barbara in my head for about a year - until one night I mispronounced 'Canada'."
The show also featured a reunion of all of Walters' co-hosts on "The View" over the years, plus some jabs at Harry Reasoner, her co-anchor on "ABC Evening News" in the 1970s who barely concealed his contempt for working alongside her. Reasoner died in 1991 at the age of 68.