She’s one of America’s favorite talk show hosts. But behind Kathie Lee Gifford’s successful career, beautiful family, and charming smile, you’ll discover a woman whose journey displays God’s powerful and redemptive ways. This is amazing.
After leaving the Today show for a long break we dug a bit deeper into her life and found some heartbreaking but also beautiful moments in her journey through life.
After learning more about Kathie Lee Gifford’s incredible journey to faith and stardom, I must admit that my respect for her has only grown all the more.
Kathryn (Kathie) Lee Epstein was born on August 16, 1953, in Paris, France. Born into a patriotic American family, her father, Aaron Leon Epstein, was an American naval officer and weekend jazz saxophonist, while her mother, Joan, was a former naval secretary turned radio singer.
When Kathie was 5 years old, her family moved back to the United States and eventually settled in Bowie, Maryland, where papa Epstein worked as a newspaper distributor and insurance agent.
Born into a Jewish/Christian family, Kathie was often exposed to religion and grew up attending Methodist Sunday school. But at the age of twelve, Kathie watched a Christian film by Billy Graham entitled The Restless Ones. That same day, Kathie dedicated her life to Jesus Christ and became a born-again Christian.
Kathie shared, “I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television. A couple years prior, President Kennedy had been assassinated, so I walked in thinking, What cataclysmic event has happened this time? But I discovered that my mother and sister had been watching one of Billy Graham’s televised crusades. That night they both came to Christ. A few months later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association released its first movie in theaters, The Restless Ones. It is about a girl at the cusp of making big decisions in her life. She asks herself whether she’ll follow the way of faith or the way of the world. I went to see it at a small theater in our town, Annapolis, Maryland. As I watched, I heard a voice speak to me directly. Although it wasn’t audible, I sensed God saying deep in my spirit, ‘Kathie, I love you. If you’ll trust me, I’ll make something beautiful out of your life.’ At the end of the movie, someone in the theater stood up and announced, ‘Whoever would like to make this step of faith, come forward.’ I couldn’t get out of my seat fast enough. My brother didn’t want me walking into the crowd on my own and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’ I spurted back, ‘Oh yeah? Stop me.’ He came with me to make sure I was safe. Standing at the front of the theater, I asked Jesus into my heart.”
Even at a young age, Lathie Lee had always felt called to be a light in Hollywood.
“At that age , all I wanted was to become an actress and a singer. The Lord met me in a movie theater, in the very world I dreamed of being a part of. From that point on, God was with me at every twist and turn, every decision. The Holy Spirit would say, ‘Go that way. Go down that road,’ or, ‘No, Kathie, don’t take that part. No, that will not glorify the Lord.’ God kept me on his path and eventually led me to Hollywood.”
At 17, Gifford won the Miss Junior Maryland pageant and traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to compete in the nationwide pageant. While there, one of the judges who was a well-known Christian singer named Anita Bryant immediately recognized Gifford’s God-given talent for entertaining. Bryant invited the young beauty queen to live with her and her husband, Bob Green, at their home in Key Biscayne, Florida.
At first, Gifford was thrilled to be given the opportunity to learn from a well-established Christian artist. But after a treacherous year babysitting, doing secretarial work, and occasionally singing in Southern Baptist churches, Gifford realized that she had been manipulated and Bryant’s life was a mess. Her mentor’s marriage was merely a front for their careers; it was all a lie. Wanting no part of the hypocrisy, Gifford left.
Gifford eventually released 3 gospel albums between 1976 and 1978, and began taking more mainstream, secular jobs.
When Kathie Lee arrived in Hollywood, she joined a Bible study with like-minded Christians in the entertainment industry — but they were often “chastised far more by Christians than anyone else.”
Kathie shared, “They’d ask, ‘How can you say you’re a Christian and be in Hollywood?’ I’d always respond, ‘How could I be in Hollywood and not be a Christian?’ How could I put up with the work and rejection without the security of God’s faithfulness?”
Kathie Lee has never claimed to be perfect — but instead, she boasts in the work that Jesus Christ has done in her.
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle, make mistakes, or break God’s heart on occasion. But the story of my life — and I dare say any Christian’s life—is not the story of my faithfulness to God but of his faithfulness to me.”
While visiting a friend on the set of NBC’s famous soap opera, Days of Our Lives, Kathie was asked if she would consider playing the role of Nurse Callahan. Kathie took the job and remained a part of the cast for nine months — a decision that would forever change the course of her life forever.
With a a newfound knack for television, Gifford’s resume grew rather quickly. And for the next several years, the personable young actress took as many odd-jobs as she could– working on commercial jingles and making appearances on several sitcoms and TV pilots.
But in 1981, she finally got her big break. While substituting for Regis Philbin on a morning talkshow in Los Angeles, Gifford caught the attention of Good Morning America‘s executive producer, Susan Winston.
Winston was drawn to the young entertainer’s joyful personality and charisma. One year later, Gifford was asked to relocate to New York City and become a regular host on the nationally televised show.
She had finally made it big. But it wasn’t long before Gifford would once again capture the attention of a pivotal figure in her life.
Regis Philbin had begun hosting The Morning Show on WABC-TV and was looking for a new sidekick. Regis was convinced the young sweetheart would be a fantastic addition to the team. And right he was.
Wanting a break from the stiffness of GMA, Gifford agreed to take a leap of faith into a lighter and unscripted talkshow. Kathie took a seat next to Regis in 1985, and it wasn’t long before she became an international star and undoubtedly America’s sweetheart.
Good Morning America had proven to be one of the various stepping stones that the Lord used to propel Gifford forward into the limelight. But fame wasn’t the only thing Gifford acquired on GMA.
While on the set of GMA, Kathie met the legendary NFL player and sportscaster, Frank Gifford.
Immediately, the two hit it off, but Frank much older and in the middle of a divorce, so he set Kathie up with his best friend. They were friends for almost four years before becoming romantically involved.
Frank shared, “I tried desperately to fix her up with one of my best friends. That didn’t work out, but we later did. Television has been good to me.”
The couple wed on October 18, 1986, in Bridgehampton, New York. Frank was 53, Kathie was 30.
“Somebody asked me if the age difference between us bothered me and I said, ‘Absolutely! I just hope I can keep up with him.’ We didn’t fall in love. We really grew in love,” Kathie Lee told Entertainment Tonight just before they tied the knot
Four years after their wedding, the lovebirds welcomed their first child, a son they named Cody Newton Gifford.
After their second pregnancy resulted in devastating miscarriage, the beautiful little family finally welcomed their rainbow baby; a precious baby girl named Cassidy Erin Gifford.
The all-American Gifford family couldn’t be more picture-perfect. Both Kathie and Frank were on the top of their careers and their lives were seemingly flawless.
But Frank had a secret he’d wrestled with for much of his life. Back in those days, Frank was quite the ladies man– a struggle he admitted after he became a Christian.
In 1997, after 10 years of marriage, Kathie Lee received the devastating news no wife wants to hear. The Globe tabloid published photographs of her husband with a flight attendant named Suzen Johnson in a New York City hotel room. (The flight attendant was later discovered to have received $75,000 from The Globe to seduce Frank.)
Kathie had built an entire life around her family. Her husband meant everything to her; he was the love of her life and the father of her children.
Her reputation was slashed, her heart was shattered. The image of the perfect family had been publicly scrutinized, and she suddenly and immediately became silent and guarded on the topic of her family.
“This experience has been as painful for us as it would be for any other couple,” the Giffords said at the time in a statement obtained by People. “However, we will get through this together. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time.”
The media was seemingly obsessed with the scandal. Would Kathie stand by her man; or would she leave Frank and take the children with her?
Despite Frank’s heart wrenching betrayal, Kathie had great respect for their marriage covenant. And instead of turning her back on their vows, she turned to God in faith.
After three years of working through the aftermath of Frank’s infidelity, Kathie had forgiven her hubby, telling People that she’d fallen in love with him all over again, because their marriage was forever changed by the Gospel.
Kathie shared, “If I had run when Frank had his temporary insanity– which he was set up for let’s face it– then our children wouldn’t have their father. A very dear friend told me when I was going through the hardest time about it, he said, ‘If you can’t forgive your husband, forgive your children’s father.’ Too many families break up over something that could be healed if they just stay there and trust God to do a healing in their life. There’s no magic formula. We stayed home, we stayed in the word of God. We stayed in bed.… It’s the best thing in the world when somebody’s truly asked forgiveness.”
The couple was more in love than ever before, and by the grace of God, their children were never exposed to the scandal.
Kathie shared, “They never saw us argue, never saw an angry moment. Never saw us sleep in separate rooms. They never saw Daddy leave.”
The Giffords were happily married for 29 years. And although their story wasn’t perfect, they were a living example of God’s powerful redeeming ways.
On August 9th, 2015, the world grieved the loss of one of America’s most influential men of faith. The world renown, hall-of-fame football player went to be with the Lord at the age of 84. It was reported that Gifford died of natural causes. But in the midst of great sorrow, Kathie Lee Gifford’s inspiring message of hope changed countless lives across America.
“At this point in my life, having lost my father, my husband, and many others, I’m tempted to lose heart and just focus on the day I will finally be with them and Jesus. It’s overwhelming at times since the world is so dark and so void of God’s Spirit.”
Kathie continued, “But Scripture tells us, “Let us not be weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9, KJV). When I read that, I prayed, “Okay, Lord, you’re going to have to help me be strong. You’re going to have to help me with inspiration. You’re going to have to help me keep going.”
Frank will forever remain as one of the New York Giant’s greatest legends. But his family says what they’re most thankful for is his unashamed faith in Jesus Christ, his love and devotion to his family, and his unwavering honor and respect for our nation’s brave men and women of service.
Kathie shared: “Frank lived to be almost 85. He lived an incredible life, has an incredible family and had an incredible legacy.”
Upon returning to her co-host chair after her late husband’s passing, you may recall Kathie’s powerful tribute to Frank.
You can watch Kathie’s incredible tribute to her late husband in the video below:
And exactly seven months to the day after Frank Gifford’s passing — Kathie Lee Gifford traveled back to her beloved husband’s “favorite place on earth,” Israel.
Kathie visited Caesarea on the coast of Israel, which is known for it’s awe-inspiring temples, castle ruins, and towers built by King Herod during Biblical times.
While there, Kathie revisited Hippodrome, a venue that resembles a modern day stadium. Seeing it brought back fond memories of spending time there with her husband, on their last trip four years ago.
Kathie reminisced on the precious moment when the sportscaster in Frank came alive,
She retold the story as if it were yesterday, she shared: “He jumped up here, went over to the edge and said, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to Giants stadium. It’s a roaring crowd tonight. The Hippodrome is full of people just anxious for a good fight!'”
While surrounded by their family and friends who were sitting in the Roman stadium, Kathie Lee paid tribute to her incredible husband.
Kathie choked back the tears as she told the group, “I have a million memories of being here with him, they’re all good. In the last year he said to me, ‘Honey I am not afraid [to die]. I am really starting to get very curious [about Heaven].'”
Despite the her unimaginable grief, today, Kathie has no doubt that her handsome hubby is in heaven and remains at complete peace knowing he’s with their Savior.
“I know with all my heart. He saw Jesus, and Jesus took his breath away,” a tearful Kathie Lee said.
Kathie went on to share the moment in 2012 when Frank’s faith in Jesus Christ became real to him. Kathie explained that Frank’s relationship with God changed when he visited the Valley of Elah, where the shepherd boy David killed Goliath with only one stone and a slingshot.
She laughed remembering how Frank was so proud of the rocks he’d gathered there, it was the first thing he would show people when they visited their home.
According to Today, this story of Frank was the inspiration behind the new song “What Is Your Stone” Kathie Lee wrote, along with songwriter David Pomeranz.
And although she’ll never stop missing the love of her life, Kathie is grateful for the sweet, 28 years she had with him.
As she held back tears of both gratefulness and grief, Kathie said, “We rejoice in his life, a life well lived. We rejoice in a race well run… We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
In the video below, watch Kathie Lee Gifford’s beautiful tribute to her husband, Frank, in his favorite place on earth — the Holy Land:
Wasn’t that just beautiful? I couldn’t hold back the tears and got goosebumps as Kathie shared her husband’s powerful testimony. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord greeted Frank and said something like Matthew 25:21, which reads; “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
One of the things I love most about Kathie Lee Gifford is the fact that she has never been afraid to share the Gospel on national television. In her latest interview with Dr. Oz, watch as Kathie Lee seizes the opportunity and shares her reason for hope. This powerful message is changing the world. I promise, you won’t want to miss this:
“Don’t give up on your loved ones and your friends that have never thought that faith was for them. The Devil would have us give up. The Devil would have us stop sharing the Word. He would have us stop giving hope to the hopeless. And we can’t fall for that. As much as we long for a different world, we have to stay in this one for now. It’s up to us to make an impact for Christ until He comes or until He takes us. The words God spoke to me 50 years ago are just as true today, and for every moment I have left, I will trust Him to work His beautiful plan for me.” – Kathie Lee Gifford
Thank you, Kathie Lee Gifford, for taking a stand for your faith in Jesus Christ. We’re so encouraged by your powerful message of hope in the midst of such great grief. Our world needs more unashamed women of faith like Kathie Lee Gifford! Please share if you agree.