Kathie Lee Gifford

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Kathie Lee Gifford
Kathie Lee Gifford in 2017.jpg
Gifford in 2017
Kathryn Lee Epstein

(1953-08-16) August 16, 1953 (age 66)
Paris, France
Alma materOral Roberts University
  • Television presenter
  • talk show host
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • actress
Years active1970–present
Home townBowie, Maryland, U.S.
  • Paul Johnson
    (m. 1976; div. 1982)
  • Frank Gifford
    (m. 1986; died 2015)
Websitewww.kathieleegifford.com Edit this at Wikidata

Kathryn Lee Gifford (née Epstein; born August 16, 1953)[1] is an American television presenter, singer, songwriter, occasional actress and author. She is best known for her 15-year run (1985–2000) on the talk show Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, which she co-hosted with Regis Philbin. She 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 had been as Tom Kennedy's singer/sidekick on the syndicated version of Name That Tune, from 1974 to 1978. She also occasionally appeared on the first three hours of Today and was a contributing NBC News correspondent.

Kathie Lee married Paul Johnson, a Christian composer/arranger/producer/publisher in 1976. After their divorce in 1982, she married sportscaster and former NFL player Frank Gifford in 1986. He died in 2015. Kathie Lee has released studio albums and written books.

Early life and beginnings[edit]

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.[2] Gifford grew up in Bowie, Maryland, and attended Bowie High School.[3]

Gifford's paternal grandfather was a Russian Jew from Saint Petersburg and her paternal grandmother was of Native American ancestry. Her mother, a relative of writer Rudyard Kipling, was of French-Canadian, German and English descent.[4][5]

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."[6]

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.

Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee[edit]

On June 24, 1985, Kathie Lee 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. Gifford left the show on July 28, 2000.

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee were jointly nominated eight consecutive years in a row (1993 to 2000) for Outstanding Talk Show Host during the Daytime Emmy Awards.[7]

Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda[edit]

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; in many markets, she now airs directly after her old show, currently called Live with Kelly and Ryan. Because the fourth hour of Today airs live at 10:00 am ET, and Live with Kelly and Ryan airs live at 9:00 am ET, Gifford's hour does not compete directly with her former show in most markets.[8] Kotb and Gifford replaced Ann Curry and Natalie Morales. In the weeks prior to Gifford's arrival, ratings indicated 1.9 million viewers of the fourth hour of Today.[9] As of 2014, the fourth hour of Today with Gifford and Kotb has averaged 2.15 million total viewers, an increase of 13 percent over the 2008 ratings.[10][11] 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 huge party, including a video by her children Cody and Cassidy Gifford.[12] In 2019, they won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Informative Talk Show Host.

Current career[edit]

Gifford left Today in order to pursue a movie career both as an actress, and as a director and producer. In 2018 she filmed Then Came You in which she co-stars with Craig Ferguson. In 2018 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.[13] Gifford has several projects in the works including sequels to Then Came You.

Media appearances and projects[edit]

Gifford's career took off in the 1970s as a vocalist on the game show Name That Tune with Tom Kennedy. In 1978, she joined the cast of the short-lived Hee Haw spinoff, Hee Haw Honeys.

Gifford has made guest appearances in films and television series, and has several independently released albums on CD, including 2000's The Heart of a Woman, featuring the single "Love Never Fails".[14][15]

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 1994, she appeared as herself in an episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld.

She did a number of voice overs most notably as Echidna in the 1998 TV series Hercules and the follow up 1999 comedy-drama and animated television film Hercules: Zero to Hero. In 2004, she was on the show, Higglytown Heroes as the Mail Carrier Hero.

In September 2005 she became a special correspondent on The Insider, a syndicated entertainment magazine television show, ending her relationship with that program upon her co-hosting role with Today.[16]

She played the role of Miss Hannigan in a concert performance of Annie at Madison Square Garden in December 2006.[17]

On an episode that aired March 27, 2010, she guest starred on The Suite Life on Deck, along with her real-life daughter, Cassidy.

She appeared as herself in the 2015 television film Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!

She has written two autobiographical books, Just When I Thought I'd Dropped my Last Egg: Life and Other Calamities in 2010 and The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi to be released in early 2018. She has also written a number of children's books.

Musical theatre[edit]

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,[18] 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.

In 2007, she premiered Saving Aimee, a stage musical about evangelist Aimee McPherson, at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.[19][20] The premiere starred actress Carolee Carmello in the lead role.[21] The show, now titled Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, ran on Broadway from November 15, 2012, through December 9, 2012,[22] with Carmello reprising her role as McPherson. On April 30, 2013, Carmello received her third Tony Award nomination for the performance.[23]

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.[24]

In 2008, Gifford and David Friedman wrote a junior high school musical entitled Key Pin It Real.[25] 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.[26]

Gifford is currently working on a musical adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life with John McDaniel; McDaniel is composing music while Gifford is writing lyrics.[27]


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.[28]

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.[29]

Labor rights activity[edit]

In 1996 the National Labor Committee, a human rights group, reported that sweatshop labor was being used to make clothes for the Kathie Lee line, sold at Wal-Mart.[30] The group reported that a worker in Honduras smuggled a piece of clothing out of the factory, which had a Kathie Lee label on it.[31] 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."[32]

Labor activist Charles Kernaghan spoke to the media and accused Gifford of being responsible for the sweatshop management activity. Gifford addressed Kernaghan's allegations on the air during Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, explaining that she was not involved with hands-on project management in factories.[33]

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.[34]

Personal life[edit]

Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford in 1996

Kathie Lee married Paul Johnson, a Christian composer/arranger/producer/publisher in 1976. They gained fame in Christian music, appearing on covers of Christian magazines. But the marriage was strenuous from the start and in 1981, Johnson moved out. The couple divorced in 1982.[35]

On October 18, 1986, Kathie 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.

Kathie Lee was 23 years younger than Frank. 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 died on August 9, 2015, from natural causes at their Greenwich, Connecticut, home, a week shy of his 85th birthday.[36][37] In 2017, she released "He Saw Jesus", a very personal song Kathie Lee co-wrote (with songwriter Brett James) and dedicated to her husband. All proceeds from the song went to the international evangelical Christian humanitarian aid charity Samaritan's Purse.



(as Kathie Lee Gifford except where indicated)

  • 1992: Sentimental Journey
  • 1993: It's Christmas Time
  • 1993: Christmas Carols
  • 1993: Sentimental
  • 1993: Christmas With Kathie Lee Gifford (double album)
  • 1995: Dreamship: Lullabies for Little Ones
  • 1995: Kathie Lee's Rock 'N' Tots Cafe: A Christmas "Giff"
  • 2000: Heart of a Woman (as Kathie Lee)
  • 2000: Born For You (as Kathie Lee)
  • 2001: Goodnight, Angel (as Kathie Lee)
  • 2004: Gentle Grace
  • 2009: Everyone Has a Story (as Kathie Lee Gifford & Friends)
  • 2009: My Way Home
  • 2010: Super Hits


Television series



  • 2010: Just When I Thought I'd Dropped my Last Egg: Life and Other Calamities
  • 2018: The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi

Children's books

  • 2010: Party Animals
  • 2011: The Three Gifts: A Story About Three Angels and the baby Jesus (co-written with Michael Storrings)
  • 2011: The Legend of Messy M'Cheany

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kathie Lee Gifford Biography". Bio. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  2. ^ "Kathie Lee Gifford Film Reference biography". Filmreference.com. Retrieved February 16, 2009.
  3. ^ George Rush and Joanna Molloy (May 13, 1996). "Daily News". New York. Archived from the original on June 19, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2009.
  4. ^ New York Magazine – Google Books. July 22, 1996. Retrieved December 10, 2011 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Just When I Thought I'd Dropped My Last Egg". Worldcat.org. November 16, 2007. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  6. ^ "What's Next for Kathie Lee?", Transcripts.cnn.com
  7. ^ "Kathie Lee Gifford". IMDb. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  8. ^ "Kathie Lee Gifford returns to morning TV at Today". Today.msnbc.msn.com. March 31, 2008. Archived from the original on April 1, 2008. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  9. ^ Quenqua, Douglas (August 10, 2008). "Forthright or Clueless? Kathie Lee Draws Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  10. ^ "TODAY is the No. 1 Morning Program for 797 Weeks Straight and Counting" Archived June 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ ""Kathie Lee Gifford, more than just a pretty face", The Knoxville Journal, Nov. 9, 2012". Theknoxvillejournal.com. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  12. ^ "Giffords leaving Today show". CNN. December 11, 2018. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  13. ^ "Kathie Lee Gifford says 'Today' exit isn't sad: 'I certainly won't bawl like a baby'". USA TODAY. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  14. ^ Love Never Fails video on YouTube[dead link]
  15. ^ "website". Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  16. ^ TV.com (August 16, 2005). "Kathie Lee Gifford lands role on The Insider". Tv.com. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  17. ^ BWW News Desk. "Kathie Lee Gifford plays Miss Hannigan in MSG production of Annie". Broadwayworld.com. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  18. ^ "Under The Bridge". KathieLeeGifford.com. November 4, 2008. Archived from the original on January 9, 2010. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  19. ^ "Saving Aimee". KathieLeeGifford.com. May 15, 2007. Archived from the original on June 20, 2009. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  20. ^ Horwitz, Jane (April 25, 2007). "Kathie Lee Gifford's Leap of Faith". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  21. ^ "Carmello Is Famed Evangelist in Kathie Lee Gifford's Saving Aimee Musical". Playbill.com. April 10, 2007. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  22. ^ [1]. Internet Broadway Database.
  23. ^ Tony Awards Official Website. Tony Award Nominees 2013. tonyAwards.org. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
  24. ^ "Celebrating the Stars at the Helen Hayes Awards".
  25. ^ "Kathie Lee: At home on Today". Allday.msnbc.msn.com. Archived from the original on December 25, 2009. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  26. ^ www.tradingmarkets.com[dead link]
  27. ^ "Meet John McDaniel, Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' The Daughter of the Regiment – St. Louis Magazine – June 2011 – St. Louis, Missouri". Stlmag.com. Retrieved December 10, 2011.
  28. ^ Shayna, Kathy (January 3, 2009). "Childhelp goes Hollywood for fundraiser". Azcentral.com. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  29. ^ "Charities, Assoc. to Benefit Children". KathieLeeGifford.com. November 4, 2008. Archived from the original on December 16, 2009. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  30. ^ ""The Man Who Made Kathie Lee Cry", Washington Post, July 31, 2005". Washingtonpost.com. July 31, 2005. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
  31. ^ "Zoned for Slavery: The Child Behind the Label", 1995; a Crowning Rooster Production Archived December 5, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ "Keeper of the Fire". Motherjones.com. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  33. ^ Kathie Lee Gifford's clothing line and its connection to sweatshop work Archived February 22, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ "Companies agree to meet on 'sweatshops'. The Washington Post, John F. Harris, Peter McKay. August 3, 1996, Page A10. "Pres Clinton stood side-by-side at the White House August 2, 1996 with talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford and a delegation of leading executives from the apparel industry to announce ..."
  35. ^ Elizabeth Gleick (November 2, 1992). "Kathie Lee's Story". People magazine. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  36. ^ "Pro Football Hall Of Famer, Giants Legend Frank Gifford Dead At 84". New York City: WCBS-TV. August 9, 2015. Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
  37. ^ Gittens, Hasani (August 9, 2015). "NFL Legend Frank Gifford Passes Away at 84". NBC News (NBCUniversal). Archived from the original on August 10, 2015. Retrieved August 9, 2015.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Gary Collins and Phyllis George
Miss America Pageant host
Served alongside: Regis Philbin
Succeeded by
Eva LaRue and John Callahan