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Barbara Walters to retire in May 2014

Barbara Walters presents an award at the 39th

Barbara Walters presents an award at the 39th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (June 23, 2012) Credit: AP

Ending years of rumors, speculation, and even jokes - usually told at her own expense - Barbara Walters finally has the answer to the most pressing question of her remarkable career: When will it end?

She will announce later this spring that the final date will be in May, 2014. That will mark exactly 50 years on television, beginning in 1964 when she became a co-host alongside Hugh Downs at "Today."

Walters, 83, could not be reached earlier today, and Cindi Berger, her longtime spokeswoman, did not respond to a call or email. But an industry executive familiar with Walters' exit strategy said she will announce her departure on "The View" "in the coming months."

A long farewell was always to be expected although in the case of "The View" - which she and her longtime production partner Bill Geddie launched in 1997 - it may be a necessity. Joy Behar is leaving this summer, and persistent reports point to a late summer departure for Elisabeth Hasselbeck too. Even given a year's lead time, that represents an enormous rebuilding project for the talk show. It's expected to use those months to air a long valedictory to its legendary founder, but also develop new hosts.

Clearly Walters was caught unawares by the news of her retirement, first reported on industry website Deadline, even though she and ABC have been planning this for months.

In recent years, she has gradually stepped away from other commitments - notably "20/20" in 2009 - but when she ended her popular Oscar special -, a pre-awards fixture for nearly 30 years - in 2011, speculation about her tenure on "The View" ramped up. After an interview with President Obama later that year, she leaned over to him saying, "I need one more interview with you, because I'm retiring next year." The comment was caught on an open mic, and Walters later laughed it off as a joke.

Last year, in Washington to attend the president's inauguration, she fell and suffered a concussion, and doctors later found that she had adult on-set chicken pox. There were no indications today her retirement is related any health issue.

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