Kathie Lee Gifford, morning talk show regular, signing copies of Party Animals
*4/13/10 5:30 PM at Barnes & Noble – Lincoln Triangle. New York, NY.
*4/14/10 7:00 PM at BookEnds – East Ridgewood Avenue. Ridgewood, NJ.
*4/15/10 7:00 PM at Borders Books – Post Road. Fairfield, CT.
*4/16/10 7:00 PM at Book Revue – New York Avenue. Huntington, NY.
Kathie Lee Gifford (born August 16, 1953) is an American television hostess, singer, actress, 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 has received 11 Emmy nominations. Before her long stint in talk shows, Gifford’s first television exposure was that of Tom Kennedy’s singer/sidekick on Name That Tune, from 1974 to 1978.
On April 7, 2008, Gifford started co-hosting the fourth hour of NBC’s Today Show with Hoda Kotb. They replaced Ann Curry and Natalie Morales. The show’s ratings decreased since Gifford’s arrival, drawing 1.9 million viewers the weeks prior and 1.7 million a few months after.
Kathie Lee Gifford, born Kathryn Lee Epstein in Paris, France, is the daughter of Joan (née Cuttell), a singer, and Aaron Epstein, a musician and former U.S. Naval Officer. 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. During high school, Gifford was a singer in a folk group, “Pennsylvania Next Right”, which performed frequently at school assemblies. After high school graduation, Gifford attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, studying drama and music.
Gifford’s father was raised in a Jewish home while her mother was a Methodist. After seeing the Billy Graham-produced film, The Restless Ones at age 12, Gifford states it was then she became a born-again Christian. She is quoted as telling interviewer Larry King, “I was raised with many Jewish traditions and raised to be very grateful for my Jewish heritage.” Her brother, Rev. David Paul Epstein, is an evangelical Baptist preacher and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.
Gifford has two children, Cody, 19, and Cassidy, 16.
In 1970, Gifford represented Maryland in America’s Junior Miss Pageant, where she inadvertently broke pageant rules by talking to a male and subsequently was disqualified.
During one summer in the early 1970s she was a live-in secretary/babysitter for Anita Bryant at her home in Miami. Gifford’s career took off in the 1970s (during her first marriage to Christian composer/arranger/producer/publisher Paul Johnson) as a vocalist on the game show Name That Tune with Tom Kennedy (she performed the “sing a tune” segment as Kathie Lee Johnson). In 1978, she joined the cast of the short-lived Hee Haw sitcom spinoff, Hee Haw Honeys.
Gifford appeared in television advertisements for Carnival Cruise Lines beginning in 1984. The ads were the first cruise line ads to air on network television.
Live with Regis and Kathie Lee
Following her divorce from Johnson in 1983, Gifford met sports commentator Frank Gifford during an episode of ABC’s Good Morning America; the couple married in 1986. Coincidentally, they share the same birthday, 23 years apart.
By that time, she was several months into her most famous television role, as a full-time morning talk show personality. On June 24, 1985, she 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, millions of morning-TV viewers watched her descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children: son Cody Newton Gifford (born in 1990) and Cassidy Erin Gifford (born in 1993). She appeared as a spokesperson for Slim Fast diet shakes after Cody was born.
Gifford was inspired to name her son Cody after watching her husband on a Monday Night Football game in 1989 featuring the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears. Cody Risien was an offensive lineman for the Browns and got much attention during the course of the contest because he was struggling with removing a piece of dirt from his eye that forced him to the sideline. The announcers kept on panning the camera over to Risien, making the name “Cody” instantly memorable for her.
Countering international sweat shop abuse
In 1996, the National Labor Committee, a human rights group, reported that sweatshop labor was used to make clothes for the Kathie Lee line, sold at Wal-Mart. 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. 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.”
Labor activist Charles Kernaghan spoke to the media and accused Gifford of being responsible for the sweat shop management activity. Gifford addressed Kernaghan’s allegations on the air during Live, explaining that she was not involved with hands-on project management in factories. Gifford subsequently contacted Federal authorities to investigate the issue, and worked with U.S. Federal legislative and executive branch agencies to support and enact laws to protect children against sweat shop conditions. She appeared with President Bill Clinton at the White House in support of the government’s initiatives to counter international sweat shop abuses. (Years later, on April 13, 2007, in an unrelated appearance at the National Press Club, Gifford, in answer to questions, stated that Kernaghan had called her three months after his first public allegations against her and apologized.)
Since Live, 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”.
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.
Gifford appeared as Miss Hannigan in a concert performance of Annie at Madison Square Garden in December 2006.
In February 2007 Gifford was attending a CD-signing event at a shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey. During this event Gifford was attacked by Joey Boots, a member of The Wack Pack from the Howard Stern Show. Boots removed a box from a shopping bag, threw it at Gifford, from which two dozen white mice emerged. Boots was evicted from the mall, and Gifford was unhurt.
She 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.
Gifford and her husband raised the money to build and continue 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.
On March 31, 2008, NBC announced that Gifford was to join its morning show, Today, as co-host of the fourth hour, alongside Hoda Kotb. This marked her return to morning television; in many markets, she now airs directly after her old show, now called Live with Regis and Kelly. Because the 4th hour of Today airs live at 10:00am EST, and Live with Regis and Kelly airs live at 9:00am EST, Gifford’s hour will not compete directly with her former show in most markets.
On 1 July 2008, Gifford appeared on NBC’s Celebrity Family Feud. She and her friends and family competed against the cast of Dog The Bounty Hunter for their favorite charity. Gifford’s family won the $50,000 for The Association to Benefit Children.
She is a recipient of the Mousecar Award (as in “Oscar”), a silver Mickey Mouse statue award that was personally designed by Walt Disney himself. The award was presented personally by Disney CEO Michael Eisner who said that only five had been given out previously.
In the late 1990s, Gifford began working in musical theatre as a playwright. 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 2007, she premiered Saving Aimee, a play about evangelist Aimee McPherson, at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. The premiere stars Tony-nominated actress Carolee Carmello in the lead role.
On April 16, 2007, Gifford was a guest presenter at the Washington, DC 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. A workshop production opened at The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.