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NEW YORK — Oprah Winfrey and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton surprised Barbara Walters on today as the legendary newswoman taped her final edition of “The View” to end a five-decade career on television.
Actor Michael Douglas, a longtime friend and frequent subject for Walters’ interviews, also dropped by for the tribute, which airs 11 a.m. Friday on ABC.
Looking smart in a cream-colored blazer and a black skirt, the 84-year-old Walters was presiding over a studio audience of friends, colleagues and fans on hand to witness a bit of history.
Although she will retain a behind-the-scenes role as executive producer of the talk show she created 17 years ago, she is ending her daily on-air involvement, while limiting ABC News appearances to the occasional story or interview.
“I can’t believe this day has come, and I can’t believe it’s for real,” Clinton told Walters, who began her career on NBC’s “Today” in 1962, then came to ABC in 1976, where her many duties ranged from co-anchoring “20/20” to hosting scores of specials as well as “The View.”
Typically, Walters couldn’t let Clinton get away without fielding the question on so many minds: Is she running for president in 2016?
“I am running,” smiled Clinton. “Around the park.”
A bit later, Douglas brought the subject up again with Walters.
“If Hillary runs,” he said, “I bet you’d be a great vice president.”
Some of the best moments happened during commercial breaks, never to be seen by viewers. Then audience members could snap photos and interact with Walters and her co-panelists (Whoopi Goldberg, Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy). At one point Walters, spying the New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith in the stands, broke up the room by telling him that, now, with retirement, “I just want you to know I’m buying the Clippers.”
The audience erupted at the sight of Winfrey, who told Walters, “You’re the reason I wanted to be in television.”
“You shattered the glass ceiling for so many women,” said Winfrey, who then brought on a startling parade of them, some two dozen prominent on-air women including Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, Gayle King, Connie Chung and Joan Lunden.
“You are my legacy,” Walters, visibly moved, said to them as they crowded around her onstage.
The hour had its comic twist: In a pre-taped segment, Walters (who, after all, has interviewed everybody else) lobbed some questions at herself, in the person of former “Saturday Night Live” player Cheri Oteri doing a spot-on Walters imitation.
Barbara asked faux-Barbara what she plans to do in retirement, drawing the response that she means to do some things she never had time for in the past. For example: “I’d like to get a Costco card.”
Walters brought the hour to a close with a heartfelt statement looking back with amazement on her career, then signing off with a pledge to “take a deep breath and enjoy my ‘View.‘”
But a more telling moment took place during a break, as the throng of women she had paved the way for posed with her for a group portrait. It was a remarkable tableau.
“I have to remember this on the bad days,” Walters said quietly, “because this is the best.”