Kathie Lee Gifford has been one of America’s most popular daytime broadcasters for more than 30 years. But in a recent candid interview, the star revealed that her personal life hasn’t recently been so rewarding. Here’s a look at how the 64-year-old opened up her heart.
Born in 1953 in Paris, France, Gifford was raised in Bowie, Maryland, where she developed a passion for singing. And after graduating from Tulsa’s Oral Roberts University with a degree in music and drama, she was hired to showcase her vocals on Name That Tune. She also later appeared on the blink-and-you’d-have-missed-it musical sitcom Hee Haw Honeys.
But Gifford’s big break arrived when she moved into daytime TV. In 1985 she was selected to replace Ann Abernathy as the co-anchor of WABC-TV’s The Morning Show alongside Regis Philbin. Three years later, their rebranded show went national. Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee subsequently became one of the most popular shows of its kind during the 1990s, receiving eight Daytime Emmy nominations.
After ending her long-running partnership with Philbin in 2000, Gifford served as a special correspondent on syndicated magazine show The Insider. In 2008 she joined Hoda Kotb as the co-host of NBC morning show Today’s fourth hour. And by 2014 she’d helped increase its ratings by 13 percent.
But Gifford has also continued to pursue her first love during her daytime TV career. She’s released over a dozen studio albums since 1992’s Sentimental Journey. The multi-talented star has also worked extensively in musical theatre, writing Broadway show Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson and playing Miss Hannigan in a Madison Square Garden production of Annie.
And Gifford’s talents don’t end there. She played herself in an episode of Seinfeld and so-bad-it’s-good movie Sharknado 3: Oh Hello No! and voiced Echidna in ’90s fantasy series Hercules. Gifford has also penned several children’s books and two autobiographical ones, Just When I Thought I’d Dropped My Last Egg: Life and Other Calamities and The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi.
Before Gifford shot to national fame she was married to Christian composer, producer and arranger Paul Johnson. The pair, who regularly graced the covers of various religious publications together, wed in 1976. But their relationship proved to be a turbulent one, and just six years after tying the knot they filed for divorce.
In 1986 she walked down the aisle for a second time – with sports commentator and former American football star Frank Gifford, who was 23 years her senior. The couple then welcomed their first child, Cody Newton, in 1990, and their second, Cassidy Erin, three years later. Frank also had three kids from his first marriage to Maxine Avis Ewart.
Sadly, Frank died of natural causes in 2015, just a week before he was due to turn 85, at the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Gifford paid tribute to her late husband two years later with the co-penned song “He Saw Jesus.” And in a recent interview for non-profit Christian organization I Am Second, the daytime TV star further revealed just how much of an impact Frank’s death has had on her.
Gifford first described the tragic moment she discovered her husband of 29 years had died. “On a beautiful Sunday morning, I found my husband [had] passed on to heaven,” she said. “I had a peace that passes all understanding. He met Jesus and Jesus took his breath away.”
Gifford revealed that her son felt an identical sense of peace after trying to revive Frank. And she then went on to talk about the grieving process that the family had gone through. “We’ve had our sad moments of missing him, but you don’t find somebody under those circumstances and find yourself rejoicing even as you’re holding your dead loved one,” she said. “My tears were tears of joy.”
Gifford then went on to make a heartbreaking admission. “My biggest struggle at this point of my life is loneliness,” she confessed. “I’ve lost my parents, my husband is gone now, and my children live far away from me. There are times when I am overwhelmed by loneliness.”
However, despite her feelings of isolation and sadness, Gifford says she hasn’t given up her hope. “I’ve discovered that if I just keep thinking about what I’ve lost, I don’t pay any attention to what I still have. I don’t want to live my life in hopelessness. I’ve been there.”
Gifford also still believes that everything happens for a reason and claims she has no time for self-pity. “I couldn’t bear to think about, oh, woe is me, I’m a widow. No. I’m so grateful that Frank is exactly where he is supposed to be,” she said.
Moreover, Gifford admitted that her relationship with Frank wasn’t always a happy one – but that her faith helped her to overcome their problems. “My husband was unfaithful to me during a brief time in our marriage,” she revealed. “It was devastating to me, but I was able to stay in my marriage and have God heal it.”
And it seems her openness and honesty struck a chord, as Gifford went on to add, “I’ve heard from hundreds of thousands of people since then who got courage from that. Courage to forgive their husbands or their wives. Courage to keep their families together. Not everybody does, but I’ve heard from hundreds of thousands of people through the years who did.”
Gifford was, of course, referring to the 1997 scandal in which Frank was seduced by an ex-flight attendant named Suzen Johnson. Globe magazine set up the infamous honeytrap, reportedly paying Johnson somewhere between $75,000 and $125,000 to lure the football icon to a hotel room and videotape their encounter. It was a stunt that even the National Enquirer editor described as “downright cruel.”
Meanwhile, at the age of 63, Gifford admits she now wants to make sure that she makes the most of her advancing years. She told I Am Second, “Every single day if I wake up and I have a pulse, I have a purpose. I want to be purposeful in my life. I’m also getting too old to waste any of it.”
And she certainly shows no signs of slowing down just yet. In March 2018 Gifford released a new single “Love Me to Death,” co-written with Grammy Award winner Brett James. She also revealed that she was filming an indie movie which shares the same name as the track.
What’s more, in an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Gifford recently discussed how her faith remains as strong as ever. And when asked why she’s so vocal about her beliefs, the star replied, “If you had the cure for cancer, would you keep it quiet? I have the cure for the malignancy of the soul. And He has a name. And it’s Jesus.”