The world said goodbye to a giant. I’m saying goodbye to a friend.
Barbara Walters and I met as teenagers. Her father Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter nightclub did showgirls with major boobs, minor costumes and bigtime comedians. Me dating Joey Adams. She attending Sarah Lawrence.
We stayed close longer than I admit I’ve lived. Homes, nearby. We even priced connecting Plaza hotel apartments.
We’ve holiday’d together, traveled together. Berlin, Rome, Croatia, Vegas, Judge Judy’s yacht, the Hamptons. 1971 the Shah’s guests in Persepolis, Iran, 1960 was Israel. She gave me a mink jacket, gold Bulgari watch, 18-karat bracelets from Dubai. In Argentina she bought 20 scarves for gifts and, forgetting I was there when she bought them, handed me one six months later for Christmas.
We’ve shared tears. Secrets. Holidays. Birthdays. Humor. Like telling me: “As we get older you get grayer, I get blonder.”
What to give a person who has everything? One birthday I gave her a year’s prepaid Chinese food takeout plus the same deal at the Second Avenue Deli.
On one international cruise, we had our private table. Backs to the room. Dark glasses and babushkas. A nearby party of six talking loudly dissed her. We monitored every word. After dinner we walked over and asked them to repeat it. They turned gray. Nice moment.
Flying to Italy, our cosmetic surgeon friend Dr. Daniel Baker gave me Ambien, which I’d never taken before. Five milligrams. Forgetting I’d taken one, I took more. I was OUT! My head lay in our breakfast omelet. To disembark, B.W. had me tied onto a wheelchair and, with limited humor, was not thrilled to be pushing me up a ramp.
Best in the business, she told me: “Castro drove me through mountains to his hideaway where he was a guerilla. I found him sexy. He picked me up in his jeep driving back streets with a gun in his lap.” Scared? “No,” she said. “Never.”
Once she picked an “in” unfamiliar downtown restaurant. The maitre, bowing low, selected a special table. Their tasting menu was rabbit, boar, deer, pigeon. Not for us, so instead we killed a whole loaf of bread.
Barbara’s tab? $900! Plus tip. The snarky maitre d’: “If you didn’t eat so much bread, you’d have tasted our menu.” I sent Barb a thousand dollars in pantyhose to make up for it.
There was her longtime Roy Cohn friendship, a couple of husbands, beaux like a major name in sports, Senator Ed Brooke, and together we attended Donald Trump weddings.
In 2006 she wrote a tribute for my 25 years at the New York Post. Fellow animal lover, Cha Cha was her Havanese. Years back when Jazzy, my adored Yorkie, was killed in the supposed care of his trainer, I went insane.
With the help of local pols, I fought to institute the animal dog-care bill called The Boarding Kennel Regulation Amendment. Now it is law. Then it was Barbara who stood alongside me at City Hall.
A story nobody knows. And was never told. The 1990s smart society-logged eatery on NYC’s East Side, which filled with luncheon ladies who ate asparagus and lettuce and filled up on gossip was Mortimer’s. One day we came early and stayed. Talking. Her idea was a new talk show. We sat for hours. Her ideas. My thoughts. Her plans. My input. It then became “The View.”
A dozen years ago she came over. Unhappy at my appearance, she sent her doctor who immediately put me into life-saving surgery. A ruptured appendix.
I was home for months.
Following my merry-go-round, Barbara then . . . slowly . . . inch-by-inch . . . inexplicably began frazzling. She fell faint. A fall. Forgetful. Repetition. Her longtime loyal, devoted chief of staff, George Gapineda — with her about 25 years — accompanied her for tests. Defective nerve. Heart surgery. Doctors. Stents. Operations. In her floor-through apartment, one room became a hospital room. What happened afterwards was slow.
Dinners at home. Adjoining a dining room with service for 50, a large living room with one small table became where we’d do dinner. Fresh orchids.
Guests not. Beyond urgencies, this August marked six years she’d not been outside. We’d visit in her library filled with its photos, awards, magazine covers, stories, pictures with the world’s famous.
I’d bring gossip. We’d dish. Then walking became a wheelchair. Then her conversation stopped. Then the bedroom, then 24-hour-a-day nurses. George, housekeeper Ava, me, we never spoke to anyone about her condition. A code of silence. We saw. We knew. Didn’t always understand. But we knew.
Seems the body can telegraph its life span. A week or 10 days ago, our doctor recognized the end signs.
I’ll tell you one thing — it’s tough to lose a longtime best friend. Number One. Nobody could beat Barbara Walters. But the very day she left us, so did His Holiness the former Pope Emeritus Benedict. For the first time in a quarter of a century, Barbara Walters took second billing.
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