May 21, 2009— -- The last two times Barbara Walters saw the late Brooke Astor, the wealthy socialite did not recognize Walters, her longtime friend, Walters testified today.
Walters, the co-host of "The View," and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the latest prosecution witnesses in the trial of Astor's son, testified to Astor's mental deterioration in the last years of her life.
The last time Walters saw Astor, in December 2003, "I just knew that she had no idea who I was," Walters said, adding that Astor barely was comprehensible when she spoke.
"I couldn't understand what she said. It was garbled," Walters said.
"To have someone who was a friend for so many years not know you is very distressing," Walters said outside the courtroom.
Much of the testimony in the case has centered on Astor's mental state in the years before her death, the time in which her son Anthony Marshall is accused of taking advantage of his ailing mother to obtain millions of dollars from her fortune. Two of the changes to Astor's will that are central to the case were made in December 2003 and January 2004.
Marshall and Francis Morrissey, an estate planning lawyer who also is charged in the case, have pleaded not guilty.
Starting in 2000 or 2001, Astor began having difficulty remembering things and recognizing people, Kissinger said.
During a January 2002 dinner at Astor's Park Avenue apartment in honor of Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations, Kissinger said Astor turned to him and asked, "Who is that black fellow who is sitting on the other side of me?" referring to Annan.
When Kissinger replied that the man was Kofi Annan, Astor asked if Annan was a "distinguished man," Kissinger testified.
Kissinger said Astor then asked him to make a toast in honor of Annan, contrary to protocol at Astor's dinners, saying, "I don't really know what to say."
Later that year, at Astor's 100th birthday party, she didn't recognize Kissinger, whom she had known for about 25 years, he said.
The defense played a video of the party in which Astor appeared responsive, at one point blowing a kiss to Kissinger during a speech he gave.
That was the last time Kissinger saw Astor. She died in 2007 at the age of 105.
A few months later, when Walters paid a visit to Astor at her Park Ave. apartment, Astor did not recognize Walters, she testified. She gave Astor a pill box as a gift and the two looked through a photo album of pictures from Astor's recent birthday.
Astor asked repeatedly who the people in the photos were, Walters said. When Walters left, Astor tried to give her a gift -- the pillbox Walters had just given her.
Kissinger and Astor became friends after meeting at a dinner party at Kissinger's house in the 1970s when he was secretary of state. They joined a group of friends that included Barbara Walters and Oscar de la Renta and frequently spent Christmas together at de la Renta's house in the Dominican Republic, Kissinger said.
Kissinger and Astor had a rule when they were there that they would not talk about subjects, only people.
"It was very gossipy," Kissinger said.
Kissinger Scolded by Brooke Astor
Astor invariably was vibrant and charming, interested "in doing worthwhile things" and bringing people together. An inveterate flirt, Astor once told Walters she did not want to return to a restaurant where they'd recently had lunch, because there were "no men" there, Walters said. Astor was in her 90s at the time.
At her 80th birthday party, Kissinger gave a toast saying that the guests would all be proud to have been invited to Brooke Astor's 80th birthday.
"She shot up and denied she was 80," Kissinger said. Several other guests chimed in, suggesting that Kissinger "obviously didn't know what I was talking about."
Astor refused to speak to him for several days, until he sent her flowers to apologize, Kissinger said.
"It made quite an impression," he said.
He said Astor rarely spoke of her son, Anthony Marshall, and was "rather distant" when she did speak of him.
Walters said Astor had affection for her son. Walters also testified that Astor planned to give away her foundation's money while she was still alive.