Was Barbara Walters sick? Her struggle with late-stage dementia before her death

By Sonam Peldon — ON Jan 01, 2023
Barbara Walters
Lucas Jackson/REUTERS

When Barbara Walters became the co-host of NBC’s Today show in 1974, she made history as the first woman to co-host a television program in the male-dominated broadcast industry. Two years later, she was also the first woman to co-anchor a network evening news program for her work on ABC Evening News.

Walters was, undoubtedly, a trailblazer in the field of television journalism. While widely respected and known for her hard-hitting interviews with prominent world leaders and celebrities, Walters was also a polarizing figure for that very interview style. On the evening of December 30, 2022, she passed away at 93 years old in her home in Manhattan, New York.

Barbara Walters reportedly suffered from advanced dementia in the years leading to her death

After she retired from her talk show The View in 2014 and made her final television appearance in 2016, Walters disappeared from the public eye. There was minimal coverage of her in the media until her death occurred in December 2022.

Walters’ long-time publicist, Cindi Berger, confirmed the death in the announcement but did not mention the cause.

“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,” wrote Berger.

A few months before her death, reports of Walters’ deteriorating health emerged where sources claimed that she had been suffering from dementia for since her late 80s. In the years leading to her death, she entered the final stages of dementia and was bedbound for most of her days, unaware of her surroundings.

Walters also came down with “exhaustion and fatigue as well as anxiety and agitation” and remained unable to recognize her friends and loved ones. Her dementia was severe enough to cause her to lead a reclusive life after retirement.

“She’s very frail and spends a great deal of the day napping… Sadly, her dementia has been getting worse… Barbara is fading a little more every day. She’s close to the end and her team is scrambling to manage affairs just the way Barbara would want them,” said a source to RadarOnline.

Moreover, Walters was confined to a wheelchair and was ill-equipped with making everyday decisions. On top of that, she suffered from a loss of hearing and heart disease.

Walters was diagnosed with aortic stenosis and underwent open heart surgery in 2010

In the spring of 2010, Walters was diagnosed with aortic stenosis (a heart condition characterized by the narrowing of the aortic valve opening that could lead to heart failure in the worst-case scenario) after she experienced pressure in her upper chest while climbing stairs.

Her aortic valves were found to be getting “tighter and smaller”, making it difficult for the blood to flow through the heart. The prognosis gave her half a chance of surviving the next two years unless she had surgery.

On May 13, 2010, an 80-year-old Walters underwent open-heart surgery to replace the damaged aortic valve with one from a cow. Her surgery was successful and she made an uneventful recovery, returning to television shortly after.

However, Walters’ physical health was never the same as she often experienced fatigue and pain.

“You feel enormous fatigue. I could barely walk from my bedroom to my bathroom. I had pain where my scar is, but not excruciating pain. The worst of it is fatigue. You’re up at 3 in the morning because you’ve been sleeping all afternoon,” she described.