31 Jul Kathy Lee Gifford ~ Welcome Guest in the Mornings
Kathryn Lee Gifford, is celebrating her 70th birthday in August (née Epstein; born August 16, 1953) is a French-born American television presenter, singer, songwriter, actress and author. From 1985 to 2000, she and Regis Philbin hosted the talk show Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford is also known for her 11-year run with Hoda Kotb, on the fourth hour of NBC‘s Today show (2008–2019). She has received 11 Daytime Emmy nominations and won her first Daytime Emmy in 2010 as part of the Today team.
Gifford’s first television role was as Tom Kennedy‘s singer/sidekick on the syndicated version of Name That Tune in the 1977–1978 season. She also occasionally appeared on the first three hours of Today and was a contributing NBC News correspondent.
Early life and beginnings
Gifford was born Kathryn Lee Epstein in Paris, France, to American parents, Joan (born Cuttell; January 20, 1930 – September 12, 2017), a singer, and Aaron Epstein (March 19, 1924 – November 19, 2002), a musician and former US Navy Chief Petty Officer. Aaron Epstein was stationed with his family in France at the time of Gifford’s birth. Gifford grew up in Bowie, Maryland, and attended Bowie High School.
Gifford’s paternal grandfather was a Russian Jew from Saint Petersburg and her paternal grandmother had Native American ancestry. Her mother, a relative of writer Rudyard Kipling, was of French Canadian, German and English descent.
After seeing the Billy Graham-produced film The Restless Ones at age 12, Gifford became a born-again Christian. She told interviewer Larry King, “I was raised with many Jewish traditions and raised to be very grateful for my Jewish heritage.”
During high school, Gifford was a singer in a folk group, “Pennsylvania Next Right”, which performed frequently at school assemblies. After high school graduation in 1971, Gifford attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, studying drama and music. During a summer in the early 1970s, she was a live-in secretary/babysitter for Anita Bryant at her home in Miami. Her first regular appearances on national TV were as a singer on the game show Name That Tune, hosted by Tom Kennedy in the late 1970s, in which she would sing small portions of songs that contestants would have to identify.
Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee
On June 24, 1985, Gifford replaced Ann Abernathy as co-host of The Morning Show on WABC-TV with Regis Philbin. The program went into national broadcast in 1988 as Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, and Gifford became well known across the country. Throughout the 1990s, morning-TV viewers watched her descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband Frank, son Cody, and daughter Cassidy.
In 1990, when TV Guide held a poll for readers to select the most beautiful woman on television, Live! presented a week-long mock campaign to garner votes for Gifford. Gifford wound up winning the poll, receiving more than four times as many votes as the runners-up, Jaclyn Smith and Nicollette Sheridan.
Philbin and Gifford were jointly nominated eight years in a row (1993 to 2000) for Outstanding Talk Show Host during the Daytime Emmy Awards. Gifford left the show on July 28, 2000.
Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda
On March 31, 2008, NBC announced that Gifford was to join its morning show, Today, as co-host of the fourth hour titled Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda, alongside Hoda Kotb. This marked her return to morning television. As of 2014, the fourth hour of Today with Gifford and Kotb averaged 2.15 million total viewers, an increase of 13 percent over the 2008 ratings. On December 11, 2018, it was announced that she would be leaving Today in April 2019. Her final Today Show appearance was on April 5, 2019, with a party, including a video by her children Cody and Cassidy Gifford. In 2019, they won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informative Talk Show Host.
Other media appearances and projects
She appeared as a spokesperson for Slim Fast diet shakes after her son Cody was born. She also was the face of Carnival Cruise Lines in the late 1980s and early 1990s, singing “If my friends could see me now!” In 1991 she christened the Carnival Ecstasy, the 2nd of the Fantasy Class of cruise ships. In 1994, she appeared as herself in an episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld.
She has written numerous autobiographical books, Just When I Thought I’d Dropped my Last Egg: Life and Other Calamities in 2010, The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi in March 2018, and It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life in 2020. Her book regarding the Christian faith, The Jesus I Know: Honest Conversations and Diverse Opinions about Who He Is was released in 2021. She has also written a number of children’s books.
Gifford left Today in order to pursue a movie career as an actress, director, and producer. In 2018, she filmed Then Came You in which she co-stars with Craig Ferguson. That same year, she also filmed a Hallmark Christmas movie for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries called A Godwink Christmas. Gifford intends to make movies about the experiences of losing a loved one and being a widow, which she considers an underrepresented topic in Hollywood. Gifford has several projects in the works including sequels to Then Came You.
On April 28, 2021, Gifford was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the television industry. Her star is located at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard, only five stars away from that of her former co-host Regis Philbin.
In the late 1990s, Gifford began working in musical theatre. She contributed a number of musical numbers to Hats, and wrote and produced Under The Bridge, based upon the children’s book The Family Under The Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson. In 2000 she released the album The Heart of a Woman on Universal.
Gifford wrote the book and lyrics for Saving Aimee, a stage musical about evangelist Aimee McPherson, which premiered in 2007 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. The premiere starred actress Carolee Carmello in the lead role. The show, retitled as Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, ran on Broadway from November 15, 2012, through December 9, 2012, with Carmello reprising her role as McPherson. On April 30, 2013, Carmello received her third Tony Award nomination for the performance.
On April 16, 2007, Gifford was a guest presenter at the Washington, D.C. Helen Hayes Award Ceremony, honoring contributions and professional accomplishments in theatre.
In 2008, Gifford and David Friedman wrote a junior high school musical entitled Key Pin It Real. The play depicts a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Key Pin. The first production took place in December 2008 in Kendallville, Indiana, at East Noble High School.
Gifford is a celebrity ambassador for the non-profit organization Childhelp. She regularly makes appearances at fund raisers and events for the child abuse prevention and treatment organization and is an ardent supporter.
Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford raised the money to build and continued to financially support two shelters in New York City for babies born with HIV, or a congenital crack cocaine addiction. These shelters were named in honor of her children, Cody and Cassidy.
Labor rights activity
In 1996 Gifford was earning $9 million annually licensing her name to a brand of clothing sold at Walmart. Part of the proceeds went to charity. Charles Kernaghan‘s human rights group called the National Labor Committee reported that sweatshop labor was being used in manufacturing the Kathie Lee Gifford branded clothing.
Gifford called Kernaghan’s report “a vicious attack” on a TV broadcast called Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Gifford explained during this broadcast that she was not responsible for the contract manufacturers that made her products.
Kernaghan in his congressional testimony of April 1996, said that to make Gifford’s clothing, girls as young as 15 worked for 31 cents an hour, 75 hours a week. Kernaghan reported that a worker in Honduras smuggled a piece of clothing out of the factory, which had a Kathie Lee label on it. One of the workers, Wendy Diaz, came to the United States to testify about the conditions under which she worked. She commented, “I wish I could talk to [Kathie Lee]. If she’s good, she will help us.”[
Gifford later contacted federal authorities to investigate the issue and worked with US federal legislative and executive branch agencies to support and enact laws to protect children against sweatshop conditions. She appeared with President Bill Clinton at the White House in support of the government’s initiatives to counter international sweatshop abuses.
Lee married Paul Johnson, a composer/arranger/producer/publisher, in 1976. They gained fame in Christian music, appearing on covers of Christian magazines. The marriage was strained from the start and in 1981, Johnson moved out of their residence in Woodland Hills, CA. The couple divorced in 1982.
On October 18, 1986, Lee married a second time, this time to Frank Gifford, an American football player and television sports commentator. It was his third marriage after marriages with Maxine Avis Ewart and Astrid Lindley. With Ewart he had three children.
Lee was 23 years younger than Frank Gifford. They had two children together, Cody Newton Gifford (born March 22, 1990) and Cassidy Erin Gifford (born August 2, 1993). They also shared a birthday: August 16. Frank Gifford died on August 9, 2015, from natural causes at their Greenwich, Connecticut, home at the age of 84. In 2017, Lee Gifford released the song “He Saw Jesus”, co-written (with songwriter Brett James), which she dedicated to her late husband. All proceeds from the song went to the international evangelical Christian humanitarian aid charity Samaritan’s Purse.
Current net worth is estimated at $60 million and resides in a Nashville, Tennessee mansion. It is reported that that her current relationship is with next door neighbor, Richard Spitz. Spitz appears supportive and attentive, showing up for the release of The Way, a musical adaptation of biblical stories produced by Gifford. She is also executive editorial director for PEOPLE digital.