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Barbara Walters (left) and her older sister, Jacqueline (in the 1930s; she died in 1985), had a close bond. "My mother used to dress us alike and spend hours doing our hair," she tells PEOPLE. "My sister was very pretty and very sweet. She was what we would probably call 'developmentally challenged' today. I loved her dearly."
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Meant to join Today as a temporary replacement for "Today Girl" Maureen O'Sullivan – "They hired me for 13 weeks and I stayed on for 13 years," she jokes – Walters (with Jack Lescoulie, left, and Hugh Downs in 1963) refused to be called "girl." In 1974 she was named cohost, the first female to reach that position on a show dominated by men. "After me, every woman was a cohost. I feel very good about that," she says.
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By 1968, Walters was a member of the team covering both the Democratic and Republican National Party Conventions for the Today show.
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NIXON SPEAKS OUT
The newswoman, who was part of the press corps that accompanied Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972, interviewed the former president in 1985. "He sat with us while we got the cameras ready and told off-color jokes to the crew, trying to be one of the guys. That's [the interview] when he said he was sorry he didn't burn the [Watergate] tapes," she recalls.
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ALL THE ANSWERS
"I don't get nervous asking questions, not when I'm working," Walters, seen here in a publicity photo, says. "I have a different kind of confidence – I'm in charge." However, "I spend my life doing coulda, shoulda, woulda," she admits. "My idea of hell is that I finish the interview, turn off the cameras and then someone asks me, 'Did you ask them such and such?' And I go, 'Ack!'"
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Walters, who's been married four times, adopted a baby girl with second husband Lee Guber in 1968. The couple named their little one Jacqueline, after Walters's sister – and the lucky lady got to enjoy some of mom's job perks, like meeting presidential contender Jimmy Carter in 1976, prior to Carter's appearance on Today. Later that year, Walters jumped ship to ABC and became the first female co-anchor of a network evening news program.
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MISSION TO CUBA
During her 1977 interview with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, "I spent 10 days with him, traveled through the mountains and held his gun in my lap," Walters says. "Though he could be charming, he was also a dictator. People thought we had a romance, but we never did."
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Twenty-year-old Jacqueline was her mom's date when the broadcast legend was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1989. "I never realized that she felt out of place in this world," Walters told Glamour of her daughter's rebellious teen years. "She had a mother of enormous accomplishment, and she felt she could never keep up. I didn't know how difficult it was for her to have a mother who was a celebrity, because I never thought of myself as a celebrity."
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CAREER WITH A VIEW
In May 2012, President Barack Obama visited The View, a show Walters created in 1997. "Now a lot of people are copying The View," she notes. "I can't believe it's 17 years old! The president of ABC News back in the day told me it would take away from my gravitas to moderate it!"
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REFLECTING ON LIFE
"I wanted to leave while people would say, 'She will be missed,' rather than, 'Is she still here?'" Walters says of retirement. "This doesn't mean I will never come on TV again, but … I won't be Frank Sinatra with his 18th comeback. I can't imagine what it's going to be like – I've worked ever since I graduated from college. But I made the decision and I'll keep the decision."