Who: A fixture on TV since the '60s, Walters is known for her soft-focus interviews, her ability to make grown men and women cry, and one of the most famous speech impediments of the 20th century. She's currently recovering from heart surgery, but plans to return to The View as resident den mother and referee this fall.

Backstory: Walters was inducted into showbiz at an early age: Her father, nightclub impresario Lou Walters, owned a chain of popular nightclubs called the Latin Quarter, and also produced shows on Broadway. (A compulsive gambler, he later went broke and attempted suicide.) Walters landed her first job in the industry in 1961, when she was the first female writer hired on the Today show; two years later, she moved in front of the camera to become the show's unofficial co-host alongside Hugh Downs. In 1974, the job of co-anchor was officially hers, but she didn't stick around at NBC for long. In 1976, she jumped to ABC for a then-scandalous $1 million a year. She remained at ABC for the next two decades, co-anchoring 20/20 and hosting regular one-hour specials. In 2004, she stepped down as the show's co-anchor—John Stossel and Elizabeth Vargas took over—but she still makes celebs cry on her specials, and co-hosts chatty morning show The View, which she created in 1997.

Of note: Over the course of her career, Walters has managed to sit down with just about every major personality under the sun. She's conducted interviews with every president and first lady since the Nixon administration, was the first to conduct an hour-long interview with Fidel Castro, and made history when she conducted a joint interview with the presidents of Egypt and Israel. (The Walters interview that has generated the highest ratings so far wasn't quite that lofty: It was her chat with Monica Lewinsky in 1999, which reeled in some 70 million viewers.) Of course, for anyone under the age of 25, Walters is much better known for her role as co-host of The View, a show she co-produces as well.

The View has kept her plenty busy the last few years. In 2006, she ousted Star Jones from the show, a move that generated weeks of she-said/she-said tabloid stories over the abrupt dismissal and nasty fallout. Walters cleared room for Rosie O'Donnell, but Rosie's presence on the show didn't go over so smoothly either, of course; the Rosie madness even managed to sully her personal rep when she tried to play both sides during the memorable feud between Rosie and Donald Trump and it came back to bite her in the butt. (Alas, she's no longer on good terms with either of the blowhards.) The drama continued through May 2007 when O'Donnell scuffled with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, although now that Rosie has left the show and been succeeded by Whoopi Goldberg, Walters seems to be breathing a little more easily.

Health troubles: In May 2010, Walters announced on The View that she'd be undergoing open heart surgery to replace a faulty heart valve. The procedure went successfully and she returned to the show via Skype in July 2010. She says she plans to rejoin the show full-time—as well as return to her Sirius XM radio show—in September.

In print: After years of back-and-forth over the advance—literary agent Mort Janklow snagged her $6 million from Miramax in May 2006 but she backed out because it wasn't quite enough—Walters' memoir, Audition, finally came out from Knopf in the spring of 2008. Filled with warmed-over gossip from three decades ago, the book also details how Walters has waged a lifelong battle with "chronically low self-esteem," which naturally didn't stop her from touting the book on every TV show and during the unrelenting press tour.

Keeping score: Although Walters has been raking it in for more than three decades, these days it's her stake in The View that's her most valuable asset, worth an estimated $100 million.

Grudge: Babs has had her share of feuds in the news business over the years. She's long competed with Diane Sawyer for big interviews and went ballistic on ABC News chief David Westin on Sept. 11th when Sawyer got to cover the tragedy from Ground Zero and Walters was told to remain at the studio. She also had a long, tension-filled relationship with the late Peter Jennings. Like many from his era, Jennings didn't consider Walters a real journalist and occasionally tried to undermine her—and piss her off—by asking her to comment on what people were wearing. Feisty Walters would respond by "accidentally" calling him "Ted," a reference to Ted Koppel. The details of her feud with Star Jones on the set of The View, which Walters included in her book, led to a fresh round of tabloid headlines in 2008.

Soundbite: "Barbara has the exterior of a debutante but the heart of an assassin," Dan Rather once said.

Personal: Walters' first marriage to Robert Henry Katz was annulled after three years in 1958. In 1963, Walters wed theatrical producer Lee Guber and the couple adopted a daughter, Jacqueline Dena, before divorcing in 1976 (Jackie is named for Barbara's late sister, who was born developmentally disabled). Walters' third marriage, to TV producer Merv Adelson, lasted from 1986 until 1992. But she's been with plenty of other men both during and between her marriages. She had an affair in the '70s with a then-married Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the details of which she shared in her memoir (although the news wasn't new). Other ex-boyfriends include former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and former Bear Stearns chairman Alan "Ace" Greenberg.

Habitat: Walters lives in a sprawling apartment at 944 Fifth Avenue. Rosie O'Donnell once said it was like "being in a museum."

True story: Walters claims that after once saying "I love you" to her beloved Havanese named Cha-Cha, the dog said "I love you" back.

Vital Stats

Full Name: Barbara Jill Walters
Date of Birth: 09/25/1929
Place of Birth: Boston, MA
High School: Miami Beach Senior High School
Undergrad: Sarah Lawrence College
Residence: Manhattan (Upper East Side)
Filed Under: Media, Television, Celebrity

[Photo via Getty Images]