Barbara Walters’ 12 most influential TV interviews

Legendary newswoman Barbara Walters, who died Friday at 93, may have started out on “The Today Show” and blazed a trail as the first woman to co-anchor the evening news. But she made her name over decades of headline-making TV specials, in which she interviewed celebrities, businesspeople, politicians and — perhaps most memorably — objects of scandal. Here are a number of the most influential.

Barbra Streisand, 1976

(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Con)

The first edition of “The Barbara Walters Specials” premieres to record ratings, with “A Star Is Born” actor Barbra Streisand vying for space on the marquee with President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

Fidel Castro, 1977

Walters with Fidel Castro in 1975.

Walters with Fidel Castro in 1975.

(Uncredited / Associated Press)

Walters’ interviews with political leaders the world over — including the Shah of Iran, Boris Yeltsin, Margaret Thatcher, Václav Havel, Moammar Kadafi, Hugo Chávez and countless others — were among her hallmarks, but none made a bigger splash than her confab with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, whom she finally persuaded to sit for ABC’s cameras after a two-year campaign of letters and phone calls to the Cuban mission to the United Nations.

Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, 1977

Walters with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.

Walters with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.

(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Con)

Walters’ blockbuster joint interview with the Israeli prime minister and the Egyptian president reportedly came about after Begin convinced Sadat to do it “for the sake of our friend Barbara.”

Katharine Hepburn, 1981

Walters with Katharine Hepburn in 1987.

Walters with Katharine Hepburn in 1987.

(ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Con)

“At my funeral, or in my obituary, it may be mentioned that I once asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she wanted to be,” Walters recalled in a 2004 special compiling her most memorable moments. “Well,” she continued, “that’s not exactly what happened. … I didn’t ask her. She brought it up. What was I to do?”

Sean Connery, 1987

Walters with Sean Connery.

Walters with Sean Connery.

(Walt Disney Television Photo Arc/ABC)

In his interview with Walters, the former James Bond (in)famously attempted to justify comments he made to Playboy 20 years earlier defending slapping women: “I haven’t changed my opinion. … They want to have the last word and you give them the last word, but they’re not happy with the last word. They want to say it again, and get into a really provocative situation, then I think it’s absolutely right.”

Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, 1988

Walters with Mike Tyson and Robin Givens.

Walters with Mike Tyson and Robin Givens.

(Robert Maas/Disney General Entertainment Con)

“Why do you love him?” A quintessentially Walters line of questioning led the actor to describe the boxer’s temper as “scary,” “intimidating” and “out of control” — shortly before their divorce the following year.

The 10 Most Fascinating People, 1993

Walters with Hillary Clinton in 2012.

Walters with Hillary Clinton in 2012.

(Martin H. Simon/Disney General Entertainment Con)

Walters unveiled what would become one of the defining rituals of the TV year in 1993, with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton claiming the top spot.

Courtney Love, 1997

Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain in 1993.

Frances Bean Cobain, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain in 1993.

(Barry King/WireImage)

When interviewing Courtney Love, Walters asked many tough questions, including “Have you ever done drugs in front of your child” (no) and “Do you blame yourself [for husband Kurt Cobain’s suicide]?” But when Love said yes, she did blame herself, Walters was gentle and genuinely stricken, so sincere in her attempt to walk Love away from that blame.

Monica Lewinsky, 1999

Walters with Monica Lewinsky.

Walters with Monica Lewinsky.

(Virginia Sherwood/Disney General Entertainment Con)

“Where was your self-respect? Where was your self-esteem?” In what may have been the peak of her influence, Walters brought the object of the biggest scandal of the 1990s to “20/20” in her first sit-down interview since the news of her affair with President Clinton became public.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2000

Walters with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Walters with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

(Virginia Sherwood/Disney General Entertainment Con)

Walters often spoke to the subjects of front-page news after they made it. But in Schwarzenegger’s case, Walters was ahead of the curve: Her second on-camera conversation with “The Terminator” star presaged his successful run for California governor just three years later.

Patrick Swayze, 2009

Walters with Patrick Swayze.

Walters with Patrick Swayze.

(Ron Tom/Disney General Entertainment Con)

Of all the crying that was done by Walters’ interview subjects, the most touching may have been when she asked Patrick Swayze about the death of his father and he described how much he loved “that man” and how he longed to make him proud. While he struggled with his emotions, you really understood Walters’ talent for staying present and silent, which is very difficult to do.

V. Stiviano and Shelly Sterling, 2014

Walters with Shelly Sterling.

Walters with Shelly Sterling.

(Ida Mae Astute/Disney General Entertainment Con)

Just weeks after the NBA delivered a lifetime ban to L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who had been caught on tape making racist remarks, Walters landed his wife and co-owner Shelly — and his mistress, V. Stiviano, who could be heard on the recording.

Staff writer Stephen Battaglio and columnist Mary McNamara contributed to this report.

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