Live With Regis & Kathie Lee
American television personality, playwright, singer-songwriter and actress Kathie Lee Gifford, born Kathryn Lee Epstein, is famous for her long-running, co-hosting gig on the highly-rated morning talk show “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” (1989-2000), with Regis Philbin. She was nominated for three Daytime Emmys, one for Outstanding Talk Show (2000), and the rest for Outstanding Talk Show Host (1999 and 2000). Prior to the success, she made a name for herself as a singer throughout the 1970s with a gig on the game show “Name That Tune” and in the early 1980s, she made a radical career change when she emerged as a correspondent for ABC's “Good Morning, America” (1982-1985), in which she was spotted by her former co-star Regis Philbin. Gifford has released numerous albums, including three Gospel albums (1976-1978) produced by first husband Paul Johnson, as well as “The Heart of a Woman” (2000), “Born for You” (2000) and “Party Animals” (2002), all of which were launched after she left “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” She has also appeared as an actress in episodes of “Days of Our Lives,” Just Shoot Me,” “The Drew Carey Show,” and many others, and starred in the 2001 television film “Spinning Out of Control.”
Since the late 1990s, Mrs. Gifford has launched a career as a playwright. In addition to lending her gifts to several musical numbers of “Hats,” she has written and produced the stage production of “Under the Bridge,” adapted from a successful book by Natalie Savage Carlson. 2007 saw the premiere of Gifford's “Saving Aimee” at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia.
Apart from her television, recording and playwright career, Gifford has earned a good deal of public press for her long and sometimes rough marriage to sports commentator Frank Gifford. Married in 1986, the couple has two children together, Cody and Cassidy. About her husband's extramarital affair, she stated, “Yes, Frank hurt me deeply, but my kids have a wonderful father and they deserve a family.”
Childhood and Family:
Kathryn Lee Epstein, who would later be famous as Kathie Lee Gifford, was born on August 16, 1953, in Paris, France. Her father, Aaron Leon Epstein, was a U.S. Naval officer and jazz saxophonist who died on November 19, 2002. Her mother, Joan, was Methodist and worked as a Navy secretary before becoming a radio singer. Her parents later became proprietors of a resort hotel. Young Kathie was raised in a culturally Jewish environment until age 12 when she became a born-again Christian. She spent her youth in France and several other European countries where her dad was stationed until her family eventually settled in Bowie, Maryland. There, Kathie attended Bowie High School and joined the school's cheerleader team. At age 17, she won the title of “Maryland Junior Miss.” Kathie studied drama and music at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but dropped out in her junior year.
On April 23, 1976, Kathie married singer Paul Johnson, but they divorced in 1983. She remarried on October 18, 1986, to football great and broadcaster Frank Gifford whom she had met on the set of “Good Morning America.” The pair has two children, Cody Gifford (born in 1990) and Cassidy Gifford (born in 1993). Kathie's brother is Rev. David Paul Epstein, a preacher and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan. She has remained close with her brother through the years. She is known by the nickname “Kathie Me.”
After being named “Maryland Junior Miss,” Kathie Lee Gifford moved to Florida to live with Anita Bryant, a famous Christian singer and co-host of the pageant. For a year, she spent a disenchanting year babysitting, doing secretarial work and occasionally singing in Southern Baptist churches. When she decided to leave Bryant's family, she discovered that the singer had provided her with a full time scholarship at Tulsa's Oral Roberts University and a place at Roberts' World Action Singers. Starting in 1972, Gifford sang on Oral Roberts’ television show, which aired from Burbank, California, and journeyed throughout the Bible Belt attending revival meetings. However, as soon as she realized the manipulation going on behind Roberts’ charismatic veneer, she decided to leave the university.
Gifford's luck started to change in the mid-1970s following her marriage to Paul Johnson, her Bible study group leader and possessor of a Christian music publishing company. Although she later declared it was a show-biz marriage, the six-year marriage proved professionally fruitful. Between 1976 to 1978 she released three gospel albums and the couple frequently performed together on religious TV shows, including “The 700 Club.”
Simultaneously, Gifford started to launch a solo career. While visiting a friend on the production of the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” she was recruited to play Nurse Callahan, a gig she held for nine months during 1976. Additionally, she did several commercial jingles and made many TV pilots. Billed as Kathie Lee Johnson, Gifford began working as one of the resident singers on the syndicated game show “Name That Tune” in 1977 and stayed with the show until 1978 when she moved to the television sitcom “Hee Haw Honeys,” in which she portrayed Kathie Honey for a year. Her stint on “Name That Tune” also landed Gifford gigs as the opening act for comics like Bill Cosby, Shecky Green and Rich Little in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos.
In 1981, Gifford filled in for Regis Philbin as host for two days after Philbin left his position at the radio show “A.M Los Angeles.” Thanks to her talent and freshness, Susan Winston, an executive producer of ABC’s televised morning program “Good Morning America,” hired her to do some reporting and occasionally substitute for Joan Lunden as host on “Good Morning America” in New York. After her marriage ended, Gifford relocated to New York and became the correspondent on the nationally televised show from 1982 to1985. Beginning in 1984, Gifford also appeared in television advertisements for Carnival Cruise Lines.
Meanwhile, Regis Philbin, the co-host of “The Morning Show” on WABC-TV in New York, was actively searching for a new partner. Fascinated by her vitality and energy on “Good Morning America,” he asked Gifford to join him and by June 1985, Gifford had taken her seat next to Philbin, replacing Ann Abernathy, as co-host of “The Morning Show.” The chemistry between the two led to the show's immediate success and in 1989, the program went into national broadcast as “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee.” The show made the hosts instant celebrities with Gifford immediately emerging as America’s television sweetheart. In addition to participating in the interviews, Gifford often talked about her marriage and her children on the show.
Lured by the success of “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee,” Gifford and her partner were flooded with many other offers, including the hosting gig of the Miss America Pageant. She has also continued her singing career by performing in Atlantic City and other places and has frequently worked with Philbin. Gifford also sang on a number of telethons and hosted successful TV specials such as “Kathie Lee Gifford's Celebration of Motherhood” (1993), “Kathie Lee: Looking for Christmas” (1994) and “Kathie Lee: Home For Christmas” (1995).
After a dispute with Michael Gelman, the producer of “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee,” Gifford once again became the center of controversy in 1996 when the National Labor Committee informed the media that child laborers in Honduras were producing the Kathie Lee Gifford collection clothing line for Wal-Mart. She strongly denied the report and soon ventured into a mission to support stronger laws against factory labor. To further defend herself, she even guaranteed the public that she benefited all of the income from her clothing line for Cassidy’s Place, a home she established for AIDS and crack babies.
A year later, Gifford found herself suffering through personal trauma and public embarrassment after The Globe tabloid published photographs of her husband, Frank Gifford, with Trans World Airlines flight attendant Suzen Johnson in a New York City hotel room. It was later discovered that Johnson received $75,000 from The Globe to seduce Frank Gifford. After the event, Kathie was appointed a spokesperson for the Home Furnishings Council, Carnival Cruise Lines, Ultra Slim-Fast, and Revlon. She also produced her own fitness video, “Kathie Lee's Feel Fit and Fabulous Workout,” penned a bestselling autobiography called “I Can't Believe I Said That” as well as managed two charity organizations. She also continued to produce albums and sing at venues throughout the country.
In February 2000, Gifford shocked the public with her announcement of retiring from “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” when her contract with the nation's fourth-highest-rated syndicated talk show expired in July 2000. After over a decade serving as a host, she reportedly decided to spend more time with her family and to focus on her musical career. She made her last appearance on the show on July 28, 2000. Since then, Gifford has launched a series of albums, including “The Heart of a Woman” (2000), a collection of pop songs, “Born for You” (2000) and “Party Animals” (2002), a collection of children's songs.
2001 found Gifford with a leading role as a drug and alcohol addicted TV star named Amanda Berkeley on the E! Entertainment Television film “Spinning Out of Control,” written by Mark Solomon. The same year, she also hosted the annual telecast of the Daytime Emmy Awards. She went on to make guest appearances in series like “Just Shoot Me” (2001), “The Drew Carey Show” (2001), “Hope & Faith” (2004), “Higglytown Heroes” (2004-2005) and “That's So Raven” (2005). Also in 2005, she joined the syndicated program “The Insider,” serving as a special correspondent.
Gifford has also had a side career as a playwright. Starting out by working in musical theater in the late 1990s, she contributed many musical numbers to “Hats,” as well as penned and produced “Under The Bridge,” adapted from the award-winning children's book “The Family Under The Bridge” by Natalie Savage Carlson. More recently, in 2007, Gifford premiered “Saving Aimee” at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. The play is about the life and times of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, which is portrayed by Tony-nominated actress Carolee Carmello.
In April 2007, Gifford served as a guest presenter at the Washington, D.C. Helen Hayes Award Ceremony. The event honors contributions and professional achievements in theatre.