“We’ve been together a long time,” Barbara Walters said Monday morning on The View, officially announcing—as it was leaked she would over the weekend—that she will be retiring from television entirely in the summer of 2014. That statement, like much of how she handled the fanfare with which she was feted during the opening segments of the episode, was, to say the least, exceptionally humble.
As Bill Carter wrote in the New York Times piece that broke the news—after over a month of speculation—the retirement was announced “on the program she invented, on the network where she worked for the past 37 years, on the medium where she broke barriers and rules for more than 50 years.” The words “icon,” “trailblazer,” “innovator,” “legend,” and “pioneer” have been used to describe Walters in the day since her retirement became official. And on Monday morning while talking about it on air for the first time on The View, it was Barbara whose turn it was, after all these years, to cry.
“Let me just say that I have been on television continuously for over 50 years—I was very young—but in the summer of 2014, a year from now, I plan to retire from appearing on television at all,” she told viewers after a clip package recounting her monumental contributions to TV journalism aired, making a show of dabbing tears from her eyes. “It has been an absolutely joyful, rewarding, challenging, fascinating, and occasionally bumpy ride. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Again addressing rumors that this move was not driven by any recent health scares—she came down with chickenpox and suffered a concussion after falling in the past year—Walters said, “I’m perfectly healthy. This is my decision. I’ve been thinking about for a long time. This is what I want to do.”
In other words, she’s not on her deathbed; she wants to enjoy life: “I’m not walking into the sunset, but I don’t want to appear on another program. I don’t want to climb another mountain. I want to sit in a sunny field and admire the women ... who are taking my place. I smile when some young woman says ‘I grew up watching you on TV.’ It’s their time now.”
The announcement wasn’t all maudlin praise—Walters routinely lightened the mood by wielding the sharp wit that made her as perfect a fit for a morning chat show as for serious evening news. She made a crack about never having to resort to sleeping her way to the top: “I wish I had, because it would have made it much faster.”
CEO of the Walt Disney Co. Bob Iger offered his own tribute, recounting how he first met Walters in 1975, when he was a production assistant, saying she was perfectly lovely when he accidentally barged in on her in her dressing room, but he regrets that for years after the run-in she still mistakenly called him Jim. After he lauded her with superlatives—“When I think of you, I think of the word ‘singular,’” he said—she quipped, “Thank you, Jim.”
And when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a surprise visit to sing his own praises of Walters, the legend hardly skipped a beat before quipping, “I do love you, even if you don’t like very large soft drinks.”
Repeatedly during the tribute section of the episode, which took up much of the show’s first 15 minutes, Walters insisted that this was not farewell, as a full year of specials, fanfare, goodbyes, journalism, and, yes, The View, were to happen before she officially signed off. Even Monday’s episode of The View was concerned with other, less monumental things: an interview with LL Cool J, a segment called “Bathing Suits for Your Body Type,” and anecdotes from viewers with inspiring weight-loss stories all followed—though showed no signs of overshadowing—Walters’s big announcement.
Walters’s insistence on proceeding with business as usual despite the monumental occasion only underscored why she, as she told co-host Joy Behar, knew it was time to leave now. “I want to leave while people are still saying, ‘Why is she leaving?’” she said, “instead of, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’”
Mission accomplished, Babs.