Kathie Lee Gifford, more than just a pretty face

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If you are a fan of the segment on the TODAY show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hota Kotb, you may think that Kathie Lee Gifford is just someone who is funny and looks good on TV, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Kotb and Gifford replaced Ann Curry and Natalie Morales in March 2008.  The show’s ratings decreased after Gifford’s arrival, having drawn 1.9 million viewers the weeks before her arrival and 1.7 million a few months after, although the network maintains that the drop in viewers was seasonal and unrelated to the on-air talent.  More recently, the 4th hour of Today has averaged 2.148 million total viewers, an increase of 26 percent over those 2008 numbers.

For 15 years, Gifford served as the co-host of “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” where she received eleven Emmy nominations. Prior to “Live,” Gifford was a correspondent for “Good Morning America,” a position she held for three years. Gifford was also the first woman ever to guest host the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

A playwright, producer, singer, songwriter and actress, Gifford has starred in numerous television programs and movies over the span of her 40-year career.  In 1999, she started her own record label, On the Lamb Records, releasing three albums including two for children.  Gifford expanded her theatre resume in recent years by writing the musicals “Saving Aimee,” “Under the Bridge,” and “HATS! The Musical.”  She has also starred in several productions including Broadway’s “Putting it Together” and “Annie” at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, in which she played Miss Hannigan.  Gifford has written the books “Listen to My Heart,” “Christmas with Kathie Lee,” “Just When I Thought I’d Dropped My Last Egg,” as well as the best-selling “I Can’t Believe I Said That,” which chronicles her personal and professional life.  She also wrote the popular children’s book, “Party Animals.” Gifford served as the spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines for 20 years until 2004.

Gifford devotes much of her time to humanitarian work, lending her support to several organizations that help abused, neglected, sick and poverty-stricken children.  Among those charities are Childhelp, which Gifford serves as spokesperson, and the Association to Benefit Children (ABC), which spawned Cassidy’s Place and Cody House in New York City, named after her two children.

Gifford received an honorary degree from Marymount University for her humanitarian work in labor relations, and she was honored with the National Conference of Christian and Jews Irvin Feld Humanitarian Award for her commitment to bettering the lives of others. Gifford also received Childhelp’s Hearts of Compassion Award for her efforts on behalf of children.

Gifford’s paternal grandfather was of Russian Jewish descent and her paternal grandmother was of Native American ancestry. Her mother, a relative of writer Rudyard Kipling, was of French Canadian, English and German descent and was raised in a snake handler family.  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] Her brother, Rev. David Paul Epstein, is an evangelical Baptist preacher and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.

She met her husband, sports commentator Frank Gifford, during an episode of “Good Morning America in 1983. They married in 1986. It is Kathie Lee’s second marriage. She was previously married to Christian composer/arranger/producer/publisher Paul Johnson.

She and Frank Gifford have two children, Cody Newton (born in 1990) and Cassidy Erin (born in 1993).

By Nancy Morris

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