NEW YORK (AFP) - American television icon Barbara Walters will bring the curtain down on her glittering broadcasting career on Friday, signing off after more than five decades spent interviewing everyone from Fidel Castro to Kim Kardashian.
Walters, 84, famed for political and celebrity interviews during a 53-year career which blazed a trail for women journalists, will leave US screens when she co-hosts her chat show The View on the ABC network for the last time.
Her departure will be followed by a two-hour special charting her career, which began in 1961 when she joined NBC’s breakfast news and entertainment show Today.
Walters, who became the first female anchor of an evening news programme when she joined ABC in 1976, is a living legend of television journalism.
She has interviewed every US president and first lady since Richard Nixon.
Her list of interviewees includes not only some of the most pivotal figures of recent history – Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Saddam Hussein, Menachem Begin, Vladimir Putin – but also a galaxy of A-list stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, Angelina Jolie and Harrison Ford.
Whether head of state or Hollywood star, Walters mastered the art of the emotional interview, often coaxing her subjects into opening up on screen in a way that they had rarely done before.
She was also relentless in chasing down the story of the day. Most recently she pursued an interview with Donald Sterling, the disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team who triggered outrage after making a series of racist remarks to his girlfriend.
Walters was beaten to that scoop, but instead had to settle for interviews with Sterling’s estranged wife and his girlfriend V. Stiviano.
Her biggest ratings success remains the 1999 exclusive interview she conducted with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern who had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton. Some 74 million people tuned in for the set-piece.
Walters has also shown an ability to laugh at herself, making a surprise recent appearance on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, which has lampooned her mercilessly as “Baba Wawa.”
The key to a good interview, according to Walters, is simple.
“Do not be afraid to ask the tough question,” she said. “Like ‘If you were a tree, what tree would you be?’,” she quipped, winking at a famous question she once posed to screen idol Katharine Hepburn.
Walters made a household name for herself on “Today” before her groundbreaking move to ABC in 1976.
In 1979, she fronted the television news show 20/20, while continuing to present news on occasion and moderating set-piece events such as one of the 1984 presidential debates.
In 1997, she launched The View, a daytime talk show pitched at women of diverse backgrounds featuring an all-female panel discussing issues of the day.
She has been married four times, including twice to the same man, Merv Adelson, who she has also divorced twice. She has one adopted daughter.
At a ceremony this week which saw ABC television rename their New York office in her honour, Walters listened as Disney chief Bob Iger hailed her “tremendous importance to the industry.” Walters said she wanted to be remembered for her role in opening doors for women.
“People ask me very often, ‘what is your legacy,’ and it’s not the interviews with presidents, nor heads of state, nor celebrities,” she said.
“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 who are here tonight.”