Inside Hoda Kotb's Life And Career Through The Years

Hoda Kotb has won legions of fans as one of the stars of "Today," NBC's long-running morning show. She became a cultural icon when she hosted the fourth hour of the broadcast opposite Kathie Lee Gifford, the two ladies drinking thousands of glasses of wine together on morning TV. She's also sat at the main desk of the show during its more news-focused first hour, both as a fill-in host and as a permanent anchor. Her fellow "Today" star Savannah Guthrie is one of Kotb's biggest fans, even nominating her for inclusion on Forbes' 50 Over 50 list. "Hoda is the living, breathing demonstration that you can have it all, and you can have it on your own terms," Guthrie told the financial outlet. "She is strong. She is beautiful. She is kind. She is authentic. She is devoted to her family. She maintains and cultivates her friendships. And she is an incredible professional and a wonderful journalist."

Kotb has an extensive résumé that goes far beyond "Today," however. In addition to her decades working in broadcast journalism, she's an activist, a mother, a host for numerous other shows, and even an author — among other publications, her memoir "Ten Years Later" hit The New York Times Bestseller List. Read on for a peek inside Hoda Kotb's life and career through the years.

She spent time in Egypt as a kid

Hoda Kotb was born in 1964 in Oklahoma. Her parents are from Egypt, and when she was a child, they moved around a lot. "Grew up some in Morgantown, West Virginia, and mainly in Alexandria, Virginia," she told Today. "We went overseas back and forth. We lived in Egypt for a year, and Nigeria." In an interview at the 92nd Street Y, Kotb admitted that she experienced quite the culture shock when she spent time in Egypt as a kid. "I thought it was weird, I'll be honest," she recalled. "We had our hightop shoes on, our Nikes on, our backpacks, and they looked at us, our relatives, like we were crazy because we didn't fit."

Still, though, Kotb now says that so much of her heritage means the world to her. "Wonderful recipes, great traditions," she said on a red carpet interview. "I think the importance of family has never left me, ever... and I think there's a pride that comes with it. I mean, look: we came from history that goes back forever." She remembers playing near the Great Pyramids as a child, which she now appreciates in a way she didn't then.

Kotb was raised with some Egyptian traditions and cultural food, but she told the red carpet interviewer, "We're as Americanized as apple pie." While talking with Today, she elaborated, "My parents raised us red, white and blue."

Growing up, she was popular

By all accounts, Hoda Kotb was popular in high school, which she attended in Virginia. When she was a teenager, she went by the nickname "Hodie," according to Kelly Shawn, a friend who was on the track team with the future daytime TV legend. Speaking with The Connection, Shawn revealed, "I didn't know her real name was Hoda until I first saw her on NBC." According to her yearbook, she was voted Most Spirited, Most Popular, Friendliest, and Jolliest Jock. "She was a really good athlete," recalled Jeff Dietze, the school's former athletic director. "She played really good field hockey and basketball."

She was even voted homecoming queen, a classmate named Karen Miller revealed. "So many people liked her and she was chosen to represent us," she said, noting that Kotb was popular without being part of a clique. While she was homecoming queen, Kotb later shared on "Today" that she didn't attend her prom. As the show's producers displayed a photo of Kotb in high school, she joked, "And that's probably why... who is he?!"

When Kotb moved on from high school to Virginia Tech, she became best friends with a girl who had gone to a rival high school. The girl, Mary Robertson, is still friends with Kotb, and she appeared on "Today" to talk about their sorority years. "There's this group of girls who all love Hodie just as much as I do," she gushed.

She was a reporter after college

After Hoda Kotb graduated college, she was on the job hunt. That proved to be more difficult than she anticipated, and the future "Dateline" star borrowed her mother's car and embarked on what would become a fateful drive around the country. "I was in that car driving around for 10 days," she later told Savannah Guthrie on SiriusXM. "I got rejected everywhere. Anywhere you can think of in the Southeast, I got rejected ... All the way down into the bottom of the panhandle." She got lost somewhere in Mississippi, and she wound up at the station for WXVT, in Greenville. The news director there liked her work, and she finally had her first job. "You just need one person to love you," she reflected. "You don't need everybody. Sometimes you think you need every single person to think you're good, and you don't."

That gig was the first of many. She reported in New Orleans for years; one promo for her nightly Eyewitness News slot advertised the "new energy" she brought to television. "She's lighting up the nights!" proclaimed the announcer. She also spent a number of years working at a station in the Quad Cities region of Iowa and Illinois, and she later told The Quad-City Times, "I just remember the people — a great, warm feeling from the people of the Quad-Cities. Sometimes this business cannot be the nicest place. But everybody there was so kind."

She considered changing her name

By now, a lot of people know Hoda Kotb's name, but that wasn't always the case. Especially early in her career, the future "Today" star encountered difficulty from people who were unsure how to pronounce her name, and in some cases, were unwilling to get it right. Both her first and last name are very common in Egypt, she explained on Today, but seem unfamiliar to Americans. "I'm literally the Jane Smith of the Nile," she said, "but here everyone's like 'What's your name? How do you spell it? Rhoda?'" One mispronunciation while she was a Dateline anchor was far more egregious. "I did a whole interview once, no lie, where the guy was calling me Yoda," she recalled.

While reporting on a study that found some names made it difficult for people to get ahead, Kotb's "Today" co-star Kathie Lee Gifford joked that she must have slept with someone to get her job, since her name wouldn't have helped. After she processed the forward joke from her co-anchor, Kotb admitted that she once changed the spelling of her name to hopefully make it easier to pronounce. "People kept saying 'buy a vowel,' so I stuck another one on," she recalled, revealing that for a time she spelled her surname "Kotbe." However, it didn't seem to help, so she went back to the way she was born, and now she wears the name proudly.

She loves an inspirational quote

One thing to know about Hoda Kotb is that she loves an inspirational quote. She shares pithy maxims all the time on social media — "Trust the timing of your life," she posted on Instagram in 2022 — and she brought her interest in profound words to "Today," soliciting sayings from viewers. 

Kotb has released several compilations of quotes she loves. Her first was called "I Really Needed This Today," collecting 365 different sayings. "A great quote is just what you need, right when you need it, in the span of a hot second," Kotb told Parade. "Aphorisms inspire us because they're both profound and universal."

Her second book of quotes is titled "This Just Speaks To Me," which she talked about on Today. "Ultimately, this book is uplifting," she explained. "What I hope that you'll find is just how hopeful we are time and time again, and that we each have each other's back." 

She's a cancer survivor

Hoda Kotb went public with her breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, having undergone a double mastectomy. While she initially kept her diagnosis a secret, she had a formative experience on the streets of New York City that inspired her to tell her story. She explained to Cancer Connect that she happened upon a breast cancer awareness run. "I stood there until the last person came by," she recalled. "I had tears coming down my face. They were waving and they were proud and they were doing something. And it was so symbolic for me: I was on the sidelines and they were in the game. And it was time to get in the game."

In the years since, Kotb has been cancer-free, but she's never stopped advocating for survivors and trying to inspire anyone who might need a little pep talk. Kotb has written openly about struggling with her post-surgical body image, explaining in an essay for Today, "I remember a moment in the hospital when a nurse said she needed to help bathe me and I had to be standing up, in front of a mirror. I told her, 'Please, just turn me around. I'd rather not see it.'" She has since come around, and she says that she is mostly comfortable with her post-cancer body; instead of worrying about your appearance, Kotb writes, it's better to focus on other people, to see how you can help them so you're not thinking about yourself.

Her marriage to Burzis Kanga

Hoda Kotb has never shied away from sharing her personal life on "Today," but before she broke out on that show, she was married for less than two years to a tennis coach named Burzis Kanga. He's a New Orleans native, where Kotb herself lived and worked for a while; they met at a fundraiser and dated on and off for years, according to Living New Orleans. Kanga lost his house in Hurricane Katrina and moved up to New York, where he and Kotb reconnected. They married in the Dominican Republic, and Kotb told the newspaper that she was exceedingly happy. "I am a married, honest woman, finally!" she said. "If I would have known it was this much fun, I probably would have done it a long time ago!"

Unfortunately, the marriage was not to last. They divorced in 2007, amid Kotb's treatment for breast cancer. Kanga explained what happened in an interview with Radar Online years later, telling the outlet that her illness coincided with his father getting sick, which put a strain on their marriage. "In hindsight, there was level of immaturity on my part, mistakes I made," he admitted. "It was unfortunate we were married for a short time. It's a shame it transpired that way." Still, he insisted, "She is the epitome of class. I think the world of her."

She's a Lip Sync Battle champion

In 2015, Hoda Kotb competed on the first season of Spike TV's hit show "Lip Sync Battle." In a showdown of the daytime TV hosts, she went up against "Live! with Kelly and Michael" co-host Michael Strahan. "It was so fun to go head-to-head with Michael," she reflected. "We had a blast." During the competition, Kotb got down to "Baby Got Back," while Strahan boogied to Fergie's "London Bridge" and Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison." Kotb came out victorious, crowing for the cameras, "I gotta tell ya, getting this heavy, metal belt — this Hulk Hogan friggin' belt — feels awesome."

After her win, she told her "Today" co-star Kathie Lee Gifford that she had one important question: "Am I eligible for a Grammy?" She added that the producers had offered to teach her some choreography to go along with her performance, but she declined, evidently coasting to her win on sheer charisma. "We couldn't be more proud," Gifford proclaimed, professing not to know any of the songs performed on the episode.

Hoda Kotb's motherhood journey

After her cancer diagnosis, Hoda Kotb hoped to undergo fertility treatments in hopes of someday having children. However, she told Good Housekeeping, not everything went according to plan. "I remember that my oncologist called and we were talking about freezing my eggs," she recalled. "She basically said that given my age and [my cancer treatment], it was pretty close to a dead end."

Instead, years later, decided to adopt along with her longtime partner Joel Schiffman. At first, she was afraid to ask him if he'd be open to it. She told People that she was losing sleep and was sweaty when she finally decided to broach the subject. "There was like a second in there, I was like, 'This is the end of a relationship or the beginning of a family,'" she said. Luckily, Schiffman agreed to pursue adoption, and before long they met their daughter, Haley Joy. Kotb was understandably emotional then, too, telling People that she cried as soon as her daughter entered the room. "I was exploding in tears," she said. "I thought they were going to take her away and say, 'No, we have a hysterical freak here, get that baby back!'"

They have since added a second daughter to their family, and they are honest with both girls about being adopted. "You didn't come from Mommy's tummy," Kotb said she tells her daughters. "You came from my heart."

Her children's books caught Kelly Clarkson's eye

In addition to her memoir and her books of inspirational quotes, Hoda Kotb has written several children's books. Her first foray into children's publishing was a book called "I've Loved You Since Forever," which is about the love between parents and children — specifically adopted children. The book suggests that the love between a parent and child exists even before they are together. "It's sort of like you don't even know how much your heart can expand with a child, and I didn't know I was capable of any of these feelings or these emotions or any of it," she told NBC12 about the process of writing the book. In addition, she insisted, the book is for any family, not just ones where a child has been adopted. "I think it applies to all of us," she said. "When you've felt what it feels like to be a parent, I think you'll feel this book."

Like many children's books, "I've Loved You Since Forever" is written in rhyme, and Kotb eventually realized that the book could also work as a song. "I love music, but I can't sing a note," she told her "Today" co-stars. "I thought, 'You know who might be the perfect person? The amazing Kelly Clarkson.'" The "American Idol" winner was up to the task, and she wrote a song based around the book, which she debuted on "Today." 

Hoda Kotb's music videos with a purpose

It's no secret that Hoda Kotb loves music — when Kathie Lee Gifford was on "Today," Kotb picked a song she had on repeat each week as her "iHoda" selection — and in 2011, she got to star in a music video. Martina McBride's clip for "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," featured a number of cancer survivors and activists, including Kotb and her fellow "Today Show" vet Katie Couric. "When we talked about making this video, my very first idea was, I just knew that I wanted to include cancer survivors in the video, and not actors, but real people," McBride said in a behind-the-scenes look at the film shoot. 

Kotb played the video on "Today," joking that this wasn't what she expected her first foray into the music industry to look like. "I didn't get to sing. I didn't get to backup dance. What happened?" she quipped. "This is my big break!"

A few years later, Kotb put together an inspiring music video of her own to support cancer survivors. She recruited Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper to mash up their songs "Brave" and "True Colors," which resulted in a video for a new song called "Truly Brave" that raised money for pediatric cancer hospitals. "If music helped me, I thought maybe I could give these kids the gift of that perfect song," Kotb explained, per People. "A song just for them."

She replaced Matt Lauer

After many years spent as a fourth hour co-host, Hoda Kotb got a promotion to lead the main show after longtime "Today" host Matt Lauer was fired by NBC amid sexual harassment allegations. Variety published a detailed report alleging that, among other things, Lauer had a button on his desk that could lock his office door, trapping women in the room with him.

"I am pinching myself," Kotb said when the news of her promotion was announced, per NBC News. "I think we should send some medics to Alexandria, Virginia, where my mom has likely fainted after hearing the open of that show." In addition to her first-hour duties, Kotb continued to host the show's fourth hour, sitting alongside co-hosts like Kathie Lee Gifford and Jenna Bush Hager.

As for replacing Lauer, Kotb told Extra that the disgraced anchor reached out to her the morning she announced the news on-air. "Matt sent a text this morning that said, 'Congrats,' and that meant a lot," Kotb said. "That meant the world." Guthrie, for her part, insisted, "Our hearts are with Matt and always will be; we love him."

Her rumored feud with Savannah Guthrie

When Hoda Kotb took over for Matt Lauer and became one half of the first-ever all-female anchor duo on "The Today Show," she sat at the iconic desk next to longtime "Today" fixture Savannah Guthrie. Of course, the tabloids can't let two women be coworkers without insisting that they are feuding, and that's exactly what happened with Guthrie and Kotb. In 2022, The Sun reported on supposed bad blood when the cameras weren't rolling. Guthrie apparently wanted Willie Geist to take Lauer's spot, but sources told the tabloid that Kotb won the anchor seat over Guthrie's objections. They "can't stand each other behind the scenes," the source insisted.

Apparently, however, that's all nonsense. Sources spoke to Good Housekeeping and insisted it was all made up, and the magazine backed up their sources with an issue featuring both reporters. "Savannah and Hoda have blazed a trail by supporting one another and other women," the source insisted. "It's disappointing that a manufactured 'feud' is what generates clickbait instead of their achievements." Good Housekeeping believed their source, writing that when the twosome showed up for their cover shoot, "Based on what we observed during their photo shoot and interview back in January, they were supportive of each other and couldn't have been more gracious and fun to work with behind the scenes."

Her split from Joel Schiffman

Hoda Kotb dated financier Joel Schiffman for a while before the two finally got engaged in 2019. She announced the engagement on "Today," showing off her shiny new ring to her excited co-stars. "What are you talking about?" squealed Savannah Guthrie. Kotb described the emotional proposal to People, revealing, "Joel got down on his knee and he looked up at me and we were both crying. He had tears coming down and he could barely get it out."

Unfortunately, more than two years later, Kotb split from Schiffman in early 2022. She revealed the news on "Today," saying they had come to a decision together. "Joel and I have had a lot of prayerful and really meaningful conversations over the holidays, and we decided that we're better as friends and parents than we are as an engaged couple," she said. Even though a marriage is no longer in the cards, Kotb insisted to People that they remain devoted co-parents to their two adopted daughters. "Sometimes relationships evolve. Sometimes perfectly nice people can go their separate ways. Sometimes a relationship ends on your last breath, and sometimes it ends before that, and that's okay," she said.

While she has spent the remainder of 2022 so far as a single woman, she told People that she's interested in finding love again. "My heart is open," she said, reiterating, "I have an open heart."