Barbara Walters Spent Her Final Years Isolated At Home & Refusing Guests As She Battled Dementia

Sep 18, 2023 by apost team

Barbara Walters' life and career can only be summed up as truly incredible. The pioneering journalist broke boundaries for women when she began her broadcast journalism career in the 1950s, before making history when she became the first female co-host of a news program in 1974 and later, the first female co-anchor on a network evening news show in 1976. What we might take for granted now with women appearing on TV was something that Walters worked hard for, paving the way for all of the women who followed her.

Alongside her hosting duties, she was a skilled interviewer, with her intimate conversations with all kinds of notable people — from celebrities to politicians — only adding to the many reasons she became a favorite of the public. She was able to show off her interviewing talents over many decades and on a range of shows, the last of which was "The View," which she created, produced, and co-hosted, as well as a few specials that she had worked on. Among some of her most memorable interviews were with Fidel Castro, Anwar Sadat, Sean Connery, Katharine Hepburn, Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Monica Lewinsky.  

Walters officially retired in 2014 due to her ailing health and in December 2022, the iconic journalist passed away. Walters is a true inspiration, not only to women but to people everywhere. She achieved the kind of career she had through sheer hard work and talent and is an example of never giving up. Although she's no longer with us, for decades, we were blessed to be able to watch her. Let's take a look at her extraordinary life and how she lived in her final years.

Early Life

Barbara Walters (1976), (Bettmann via Getty Images)

Walters was born in 1929 — although Walters herself stated she was born in 1931 in an onscreen interview — in Boston. Her parents, who were both Jewish, descended from refugees who'd fled the Russian Empire in the 19th century. 

Although seemingly glamorous, the reality was that Walters' father was broke, and the family was mired in financial difficulties. But a boom in business put them ahead, and soon enough, they moved to New York. However, the challenges her family faced only served to bolster Walters’ work ethic. Walters once told the Television Academy Foundation

“Because my father was in show business and because there were these ups and downs, I always felt that I had to work to take care of myself."

After studying English at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Walters graduated in 1951 and, just one year later, she began working at what is now WNBC. By 1955, she was working at CBS as a writer on "The Morning Show," before eventually landing a writing and research role on NBC's "The Today Show" in 1961. Her talent got her noticed, and she quickly moved up the ranks to become the regular "Today Girl" — a member of staff who looked after the weather and small news assignments. 

However, it was, in fact, an accident that she became a journalist at all. At the time, "Today" was more focused on entertainment, but a switch to the news division changed the content of the show. Developing, writing, and editing her own segments led Walters to a few breakthrough moments in her career. These segments, which were well-received, allowed her to focus on women's interest stories that showed off her incredible talents as a broadcast journalist and also gained her popularity with the public.

Rise To Fame

Barbara Walters (1975), (Bettmann/Bettmann via Getty images)

Walters effectively became a co-host by 1964, although it wasn't made official until a decade later. Allegedly, her male co-stars were intimidated by her, particularly host Frank McGee, who refused to partake in joint interviews with Walters unless he was told the first three questions beforehand. She continued working at "Today" into the early '70s. 

It was in 1974 that she was officially made co-host of "The Today Show," alongside Hugh Downs, and in the process, she also made history as the first female co-anchor of a network news program. The following year she won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on the show. 

Then in 1976, she made the switch to ABC and became the first-ever female co-host of a network evening news program on the "ABC Evening News" alongside Harry Reasoner. Their time working together was notoriously complicated, however, as Reasoner held open disdain for Walters. She told The New York Times years later that it was the unhappiest year of her life and that:

"I would walk into that studio and they'd be telling baseball stories and no one would talk to me."

The president of ABC News intervened and reassigned them both new positions, which allowed Walters to continue shining. 

Her record-breaking journalism career included hosting various shows such as "The View," "Today," "20/20" and more. She also interviewed every sitting president during her illustrious career. However, by the time she reached her mid-80s, Walters announced she would retire in 2014. She said in a statement, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

“I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain. I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women — and OK, some men too — who will be taking my place."

Retirement And Later Years In Life

Connie Chung, Barbara Walters (2002), (Theo Wargo/WireImage via Getty Images)

Prior to her retirement, Walters underwent heart surgery in 2010 and her health condition only worsened from then. Although Walters returned to work, it wasn’t without its risks. Ramin Setoodeh wrote in his book “Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of 'The View’” that “one day, just as the show ended, (Walters) collapsed into the arms of a stage manager. She had to be taken to the green room, where they laid her on a sofa. The staff called the paramedics.”

Though officially retired in 2014, she returned to the screen to interview former President Donald Trump in 2015. Her last public appearance was in 2016. The same year she retired, Walters purchased a luxe $3.4 million home in Florida where she hoped to live out the rest of her days. However, she soon returned to New York when it became apparent she needed more hands-on help due to her worsening condition. 

“It was supposed to be her place to retreat, but unfortunately her health deteriorated pretty quickly in the last few years and we just knew she would best be accommodated in New York,” a source told The New York Post.

The property was transferred to Walters’ adopted daughter Jaqueline Dena Guber, who put it on the market in 2016.

Walters was diagnosed with dementia in 2017 and, according to TMZ, spent the remainder of her time confined to her New York apartment. TMZ quoted sources as saying the journalist had become increasingly forgetful and confused. The outlet said, in her isolation, Walters had developed an intense fear of falling and very rarely allowed any guests into her home.

Walters became wheelchair-bound and her health deteriorated quickly thereafter before she finally passed at the age of 93 on Dec. 30, 2022. A statement from her representative read:

“Barbara Walters passed away peacefully in her home surrounded by loved ones. She lived her life with no regrets. She was a trailblazer not only for female journalists, but for all women.”

Barbara Walters (2016), (Cindy Ord/Getty Images Entertainment via Getty images)

Do you have any reflections on Walters' pioneering journalistic career or stories of how her work may have inspired you or others? Were you surprised by the details of her later years and the health challenges she experienced? Let us know, and then pass this along to all the fans of the journalism powerhouse you know.

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