The Time Oprah Winfrey Saved Barbara Walters’ Life

Two of the greatest celebrity – and otherwise – interviewers of all time, Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey are known for drawing their subjects out of themselves. For getting even the most reticent interviewee to become more transparent.

Walters – one of Oprah Winfrey’s idols – shared a revelation of her own in her memoir, Audition, about the day that Winfrey literally saved her life.

Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey
Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey | Virginia Sherwood/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Barbara Walters inspired Oprah Winfrey to become . . . Oprah Winfrey

It’s partly thanks to the former 20/20 star that Oprah Winfrey became bitten by the journalism bug. Winfrey cites Walters as one of her biggest inspirations to push ahead with her dream to become a newswoman.

“When I was 17,” Winfrey wrote on her website, “I entered the local Miss Fire Prevention Contest. I knew the judges would ask what I hoped to do with my life, and I’d planned to say, ‘I want to become a fourth-grade teacher.’ ”

Baltmore, Maryland Eyewitness News co-anchor Oprah Winfrey in 1978
Baltmore, Maryland Eyewitness News co-anchor Oprah Winfrey in 1978 | Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

“But I’d seen the Today show that morning, and it popped into my head to say my goal was to be a TV journalist. ‘What kind of journalist?’ one of the judges pressed. I’ve never forgotten my answer: ‘I want to be like Barbara Walters.’ “

Clearly, the former daytime talk show host never forgot her answer, or her drive. She became not only a journalist, but indisputably one of the biggest names in television of all time.

What Walters revealed to Winfrey on the other side of the interview table

Incredibly, in 2004, the Mississippi-born Winfrey got to do what she’d never imagined: she was able to interview her idol, Barbara Walters. In the interview between the two greats, Walters opened up, speaking about her regrets, her great accomplishments, and more.

The creator of The View revealed that she feels inadequate in areas of her life where others might not give it a second thought. For instance, in speaking with a dictator on his turf, she wasn’t the least bit nervous, as she explained to Winfrey about her now-famous interview with Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in 1977.

Barbara Walters with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 1977
Barbara Walters with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 1977 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives via Getty Images

“I was concerned that it might be a boring interview,” Walters said of her chat with the Caribbean leader, “but I wasn’t nervous. However, put me on a dance floor, and if I have to dance by myself, I can’t do it. I also don’t drive. . .”

Walters honestly shared her feelings of incompetence about the small things others do effortlessly and how they were magnified by an innocent remark her daughter made at one time.

“Years ago I heard my daughter on the phone saying, ‘My mommy doesn’t drive. My mommy burns the meat loaf. My mommy doesn’t do anything except television,’ ” Walters said. “There are whole areas in which I feel very inadequate. Who doesn’t drive except me?”

How Winfrey saved the newswoman’s life

Walters relates in her 2008 memoir, Audition, about the day Oprah Winfrey played a role in saving her from what she felt was certain death, or at the very least, a life-altering injury.

“This is what happened,” Walters wrote. “In 1995, I was at a luncheon honoring top women in communications. The lunch was supposed to be over by 2:00 so we could all get back to work, but the event went long, and Oprah was forced to go overtime in her presentation to author Toni Morrison.”

Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey
Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey | Lawrence Lucier/FilmMagic

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“It was close to 3:00 when I got back to my office, where I was startled to be greeted by my terrified assistants in tears, by the then president and COO of ABC, Robert Iger, and by the police.”

Walters realized at that moment that Winfrey’s longer presentation at the luncheon had spared her.

“Seems that while I was listening to Oprah, a freak windstorm had blown a beam off the construction site across the street from my office and sent it crashing through my windows. My desk, which was glass, was shattered by the beam, and my whole office was covered in shards. I don’t want to think what would have happened if I’d been at my desk at the time.”