Diane Sawyer used to close out ABC World News with her signature sign off: "I’ll see you right back here tomorrow night." It wasn’t as grandiose as Walter Cronkite’s "And that’s the way it is," and it didn’t need to be. Sawyer’s sign off was subtle and served as a comforting reminder that she was a part of our weekday routine, just like when she co-anchored Good Morning America for ten years.
But then one day, we stopped seeing her "tomorrow night." Or the night after that. And her appearances on the network she has called home since 1989 became less frequent. For those curious about her whereabouts, here’s a look at what Sawyer has been up to and been through.
Diane Sawyer headed "Down the hall, up the stairs"
Diane Sawyer’s exit from ABC World News wasn’t goodbye — it was more like see ya around. Sawyer announced in 2014 that she was leaving World News for a new role with ABC that would allow her to focus on investigative specials and newsmaker interviews. "I’m not going far: down the hall, up the stairs," Sawyer said in her last World News broadcast. "And I am not slowing down, but gearing up in a new way, already at work on some of the stories that take you into the real lives around us, the ones we rarely get to see."
Diane Sawyer’s mother passed away
Diane Sawyer’s mother, Jean Sawyer Hayes, died at the age of 94 in Kentucky, which is where she spent three decades as an elementary school teacher, according to her 2014 Courier-Journal obituary. Sawyer told the newspaper that her mother was "a force of nature, optimistic, spunky and energetic." She also recalled the many times Hayes was stopped on the street by former students.
During a previous interview with the paper, Hayes revealed that Sawyer was once a student in her third grade class and that it wasn’t the "best situation" because of course not. But Hayes did her best to make a difficult situation work: "I treated her just exactly like the other students. Days went by when I didn’t even think of her as being my daughter."
Diane Sawyer’s husband died a month later
In what was surely the most difficult stretch of her life, Diane Sawyer lost her husband of 26 years, Mike Nichols, a month after her mother passed away. Nichols died of a heart attack at the age of 83, and was in the process of adapting the play Master Class for HBO with Meryl Streep at the time of his death. He is perhaps known best as the director of The Graduate and is one of only 12 people in Hollywood to reach EGOT status.
For Sawyer, adjusting to life without Nichols was likely made more difficult by the fact that they were so deeply in love. They often sounded like a couple forever settled in the honeymoon phase. Sawyer told Ladies Home Journal (via Us Weekly) in 2014, "He puts little notes in my sock drawer or in my suitcase before I leave for a work trip. I think one of the most romantic things is simply the way he reaches for my hand all the time."
Just over a week before Nichols’ death, he and Sawyer were spotted at Anjelica Huston’s memoir release party. As photos show, they were still holding hands until the very end.
World News thrived without Diane Sawyer
People like Diane Sawyer. There’s a reason she was once voted America’s favorite news personality in a Harris Poll. But when it comes to anchoring World News, people seem to like her younger and hunkier replacement more.
Just months into the job, David Muir, nicknamed the "Brad Pitt of news anchors," helped lead World News to a fourth quarter win over NBC’s Nightly News in the coveted key demo for the first time in seven years. Think that’s a long streak? The Muir-led World News scored more total viewers than than Nightly News during the 2016-17 season for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
An unnamed NBC news executive told the Washington Post, "As long as Diane was on the show, they were not going to win. When David Muir filled in [for her], bang, they’d win the day." That’s pretty harsh. In Sawyer’s defense, World News ratings were already on the way up towards the end of her run. Just saying.
Diane Sawer’s investigative reporting landed her in jail — sort of
Talk of Diane Sawyer stepping down to dedicate herself to investigative reporting wasn’t just lip service. With World News no longer taking up much of her focus, the former Peabody award winner has been able to tackle more time-consuming investigative reporting assignments.
Sawyer and her team worked on her eye-opening 20/20 story on Isis recruiting Americans for over a year, according to ABC. And she remains dedicated to covering the prison system, even spending seven days inside the Rikers Island jail complex for one TV special and visiting four women’s prisons over a span of eight months for another. Some might remember Sawyer spent the night in a maximum security women’s prison in Atlanta in 2004, prison uniform and all, in the name of journalism. That’s dedication.
BPI had serious beef with Diane Sawyer
Beef Products Inc. claimed World News did the South Dakota-based meat packing company dirty with its unflattering "Pink Slime" report and sued ABC in 2012 for defamation. BPI felt the month-long coverage was misleading and scared off customers, resulting in hundreds of layoffs.
The original lawsuit listed then-World News anchor Diane Sawyer as a co-defendant, along with many other people. "I read the script, and it seemed to be absolutely factual and fair to me as raising an important issue," Sawyer said during her deposition (via The Hollywood Reporter). "We were in the business of trying to get answers for consumers."
The judge felt Sawyer was under the impression that what she was saying was true and didn’t have reckless intentions, which is why she dismissed her as a co-defendant. ABC wasn’t so lucky. The network opted to settle for over $177 million. That’s right — over $177 million. You know you screwed up big time when paying over $177 million is your best option.
Is Diane Sawyer feuding with these well-known reporters?
In her 2014 tell-all book, The News Sorority, journalist Sheila Weller painted a more competitive picture of Diane Sawyer than we’re used to. Weller wrote (via The Daily Beast) that Sawyer’s husband once warned a public figure that they could no longer be friends if they appeared on the Today show with Katie Couric. Weller also reported that Couric was allegedly overheard quipping that Sawyer offered, um, sexual favors in exchange for a high-profile interview. The book also quoted an ABC News staffer as saying, "Barbara [Walters] and Diane were determined to kill each other — to wipe each other off the face of the earth."
Before Ryan Murphy goes and turns all this into an FX series some day, it’s worth noting that the three women speak highly of each other in public. Sawyer referred to Couric as a "friend," and Couric told Harpers Bazaar, "I think we like each other a lot." Walters told USA Today, "I have affection and admiration for Diane," and Sawyer said in her 2001 namesake biography, "We do compete for interviews. But … Barbara and I do more to maintain a real friendship and camaraderie than a lot of other people in rivalrous relationships."
Diane Sawyer’s newsmaker interviews continue to, well, make news
Diane Sawyer’s name is so synonymous with confessional interviews that when a Channel 4 reporter asked Robert Downey Jr. about his troubled past, The Avengers actor walked out and said, "It’s just getting a little Diane Sawyer in here." But that wasn’t a knock on Sawyer (Downey Jr. posted a photo of himself with Sawyer on Instagram days later with the caption, "A corrective experience with legitimate journalism"), but rather a reference to Sawyer’s reputation for heavy interviews.
Sawyer tightened her grip on the newsmaker interview market in 2014 when competitor Barbara Walters retired. She scored the highly coveted first interview with Caitlyn Jenner about her struggle with gender identity, which was watched by a whopping 16.9 million viewers in 2015. This was a notable "get" as Jenner was a part of the E! family and had passed over corporate sibling NBC News to sit down with Sawyer. That probably didn’t go over too well at the peacock.
The next year, Sawyer sat down with Kate del Castillo, the Mexican actress who arranged Sean Penn’s controversial interview with drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and, in 2017, she talked to Ashley Judd about sexual assault allegations she had made against Harvey Weinstein. Clearly, Sawyer is still at the top of her game.
Diane Sawyer spoke at a first lady’s funeral
With tissue in hand, Diane Sawyer told the audience in attendance for Nancy Reagan’s funeral — which included George W. Bush, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and, believe it or not, Mr. T — that she didn’t get to know the former first lady well until she was far removed from the White House. They sat down for a heartbreaking interview wherein Reagan spoke about her husband Ronald Reagan’s battle with Alzheimer’s, and they had kept in touch since then. Sawyer, who emceed the former first lady’s fundraiser for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation in 2005, recalled their many lunches together in Los Angeles and Nancy Reagan’s relationship with the media.
"Make no mistake, she would bop journalists, and I mean bop any journalist in this room … if she didn’t like a report you had done," Sawyer said at the funeral, which also included speeches from family and former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. "But unlike so many people these days, she never seemed to harden differences into definitions."