The untold truth of Kathie Lee Gifford

Kathie Lee Gifford, the beloved host of the Today show, has lived much of her life in the spotlight, but is her world as bright and funny off-camera? From dealing with husband's unexpected death to suing tabloids, and a sweatshop scandal that nearly ruined her career, learn more about this legendary personality.

She's still dealing with the death of her husband

In August 2015, Kathie Lee's husband of 29 years, Frank Gifford, unexpectedly died at age 84. In a statement (via Today), the Gifford family thanked fans for their support. "Frank died suddenly this beautiful Sunday morning of natural causes at his Connecticut home. We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers." 

Frank was a former NFL star who played for the New York Giants for 12 years. The football franchise paid tribute too: "Once a Giant, always a Giant."

In the days and months that followed his death, Kathie Lee reflected on her loss. "I wasn't able to watch one football game this season," she wrote in a first-person piece for The Hollywood Reporter. "I just couldn't. Too soon. Frank loved the NFL. He said, 'Kathie, every dream I had came true because of the NFL.'" 

She said choosing to donate her late husband's brain to be studied for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that's proved common in football players, was an "easy" decision. "Frank would want his life to continue to matter," she said, "and the Lord would want us to do what was right to help others."

Frank wasn't perfect

Kathie Lee and Frank's marriage wasn't perfect. Around the 11th year, he reportedly cheated on her, triggering a dark period in their union. Speaking with Closer, Kathie Lee said they were able to recover before it was too late. 

"Sometimes you run out of time to build [trust] again. I was grateful we could," she said. "I'm so grateful my children (Cody and Cassidy) were young and didn't know. By the time they did, they realized how much their parents love each other—and them—by sticking it out." 

More drama ensued after Frank's death because his will allegedly favored his two kids with Kathie Lee over his three kids from his previous marriage to college sweetheart Maxine Avis Ewart. According to Page Six, Frank left left $8 million to Kathie Lee and, indirectly, to her children, but left only $2 million to his three oldest kids. Daughter Victoria and son Jeffrey reportedly received $500,000 each, and son Kyle, who was severely injured in a car crash and lives with Kathie Lee, was left $1 million in a trust. 

She made a huge mistake on live TV

Despite more than 45 years in the business, Kathie Lee isn't perfect behind the camera. She made a devastating mistake on live TV while anchoring the Today show in 2012. 

Martin Short was her guest, and Kathie Lee made a point to gush about the actor's marriage with Nancy Dolman. "[You] have one of the greatest marriages of anybody in show business," she said (via ABC). "How many years are you in love with her now?" 

The problem: Short's wife had passed away from ovarian cancer more than a year prior.  Ever the classy Hollywood vet, Short didn't correct Kathie Lee on air. He simply responded, "We, ah…married 36 years." She followed up, "But you're still, like, in love?" Short replied, "Madly in love, madly in love." She went on: "Why?" He quipped, "Cute. I'm cute."

After a commercial break, Kathie Lee reportedly apologized for her comments. She also tweeted: "I send my sincerest apologies to @MartinShort and his family. He handled situation w/enormous grace and kindness and I'm so grateful." (Unfortunately, that wasn't Short's Twitter handle.)

Regardless, the actor maintained his cool, telling E! News. "On live television, people make mistakes. There's no ill will intended."

She still adores Regis Philbin

For 15 years, Kathie Lee was Regis Philbin's co-host on Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, the popular morning show that made them household names. Kathie Lee made her exit in 2000, but while other Live co-hosts have parted ways on bad terms, she and Philbin have remained friends. 

Philbin told Closer in 2015 that he and his wife used to go on double dates with their spouses and hang out together on weekends in Greenwich, Conn. He also said he'd love to work with Kathie Lee again. "She's very funny, and she's a lot of fun. We had a great time—great feelings, and she's smart. We enjoy it." 

Kathie Lee joked that she's not crazy about the idea of sharing air time with Philbin again. "I don't miss working with Regis," she said, "because I see him actually more now than I ever did!"

She and Hoda Kotb didn't hit it off immediately

Today fans may assume Kathie Lee and co-host Hoda Kotb have always been thick as thieves. After all, the duo is a riot on television, talking about sex, family, friends, and more all while drinking wine before noon. But truth be told, these pals didn't gel right away. 

Kathie Lee told E! News in 2017, "We didn't have the chemistry for the first year. We did have the chemistry when we first sat down, when I first met her and we had lunch because I was sitting with the real, authentic, unbelievably fascinating Hoda. I said, 'You know Hoda, if you could be the same person on camera as the girl I had lunch with, we could have a good show.'" 

Kotb apparently took that advice to heart. "As we worked together a little bit more, she got rid of the IFB in her ear, she got rid of all of her notes and just started talking and sharing life," Kathie Lee said. "You start sharing life and you start falling in love with the person. You become real, genuine friends… Honestly, that's the reason I've stayed nine years because by the time I was ready to leave, I was in love with Hoda and in love with so many of the people I work with here."

She's got the hots for Tom Selleck

Despite telling Closer in 2016 that she "can't even go there" when it comes to dating, Kathie Lee certainly went there with actor Tom Selleck in 2017. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the time they kissed on Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee, Kathie Lee and Selleck recreated the magic on Today. Wait, what?

It all started in 1997 when Selleck was promoting In & Out. In the film, he kisses co-star Kevin Kline. Philbin was reportedly intrigued by the same-sex kiss and apparently wanted one too. Selleck wasn't too keen on smooching Philbin, so Kathie Lee jumped in to plant a big wet one on the actor instead. "Regis wouldn't quit and you kind of saved me," Selleck recalled on Today. "And that shut Regis up, which is, as you know, almost impossible. Remember, I sent you flowers?" He added, "It was a good kiss, man."

"Let's do it again!" Kathie Lee said, leaping into his lap. Selleck put his arms around her, and when they came up for air, she exclaimed, "Happy anniversary!…He's got the softest lips!"

She was involved in a sweatshop scandal

Kathie Lee hasn't been so lucky when it comes to expanding her brand to clothing apparel. On two different occasions, she garnered terrible press for deplorable, sweatshop-like conditions in her line's factories. According The New York Times, she was first targeted in 1996 because allegedly 13 and 14-year-old kids were making her clothes in Honduras.

"My first reaction was I don't need this," she said at the time. "But they told me that I had a unique opportunity to make a difference by using what happened to me to stop the horrible practices of some of these manufacturers." So, she rededicated her efforts to combat sweatshops around the globe. 

Unfortunately, she was embroiled in controversy over working conditions again in 1999. This time, Kathie Lee was accused of employing thousands of Salvadoran women under terrible conditions. She issued a statement that said, in part, "we will not allow that facility to continue manufacturing goods bearing my name."

She doesn't consider herself a journalist

Despite more than 50 years in television, and at least two decades on live morning television, Kathie Lee doesn't think of herself as a journalist. She told People in 2016 that she has "too much respect for a lot of journalists" to take herself seriously. "What I do with Hoda can not be called journalism, let's be honest," she said. "It's very much reminiscent of what I did with Regis for 15 years, we're just two people who have no idea what we're going to talk about who just sit there and have fun." 

She was a soap opera actress, sort of

Imagine a young, bright-eyed Kathie Lee dying to work her way into Hollywood and willing to take any role. Such was the case in 1976 when Kathie Lee got her big break on Days of Our Lives. (Okay, maybe it wasn't so big.) When Today aired the clip in 2015, Kathie Lee cringed.

She said she started on the soap as an "atmosphere" extra, then was upgraded to "dismembered body voice," and finally, she graduated to "the most minor character ever," the role of "Nurse Callahan." In the throwback clip, Nurse Callahan tries to coax her patient to eat. "Thank you, Days of Our Lives, for putting up with me there," Kathie Lee cracked.

Viewers may notice that the young Kathie Lee's voice is much lighter and higher-pitched than the husky voice we all know and love today. "Sailors, whiskey and cigarettes, and late nights," she quipped. "That's what happens." 

She sued the tabloid that bashed her son

Kathie Lee may have a thick skin when it comes to the gossip mill, but she put her foot down when the tabloids started talking about her son, Cody. In 2000, the National Examiner published a story titled "Kathie Lee Wrecking Cody's Life! Pushy Mom's Creating a Monster." Kathie Lee accused the tabloid of libel for allegedly portraying her son as "an impudent, unruly child who is unable to behave in a socially acceptable manner." The rag mag also said Cody threw a fit at a record store because it was out of Britney Spears albums, puked up squid at a restaurant, and destroyed a pair of pants by coloring on them at a kid's clothing store. Lawyers for the star slammed the publication, alleging none of those incidents happened, reported The Buffalo News.

According to People, the case was dismissed by a Palm Beach Circuit judge in 2002, and details of the settlement were kept confidential. The National Examiner did issue a statement: "We regret any distress or embarrassment that Cody may have experienced."

Bill Cosby tried to kiss her

As embattled comedian Bill Cosby fights allegations that he sexually assaulted dozens of women, Kathie Lee recalled a time he allegedly tried to land an unwelcome kiss on her. "I will admit, toward the very, very end of the last time I saw him, he did try to kiss me," she told Today (via Us Weekly) in 2014. "I said, 'No.' I said, 'Bill, we're friends.' He said, 'Okay, goodnight,' and I said, 'Goodnight.' And I went into my room, and he went into his room."

"I'm not saying the women's allegations are not true," Kathie Lee said. "I'm just saying I never personally saw it with my own two eyes." 

The talk show host said she feels uneasy thinking about model Beverly Johnson's accusation that Cosby drugged her cappuccino. "I got a chill," Kathie Lee said, recalling touring with Cosby in the '70s, "because every night when we'd come off stage and Bill would be going onstage, he would have made cappuccinos for all three of us. I always thought it was such a kindness and so sweet, and now you see Beverly Johnson saying that he made a cappuccino or something for her, and I just don't want it to be true."

Why she'll never tell her kids she's proud

In 2017, Kathie Lee talked about her unorthodox parenting style with People, sharing a story to explain why she never tells her kids she's "proud" of them. According to Kathie Lee, when her son earned straight A's in film school, her daughter said, "Mom, why aren't you saying something? Aren't you proud of him?" Kathie Lee told her, "Pride comes before the fall. A good book says that." At that point, the wheels began turning in the Gifford household. Her daughter said, "So Mom, we need a God word for proud." 

Kathie Lee thought about it and came up with the word "groud," which means "grateful to God for every good thing that's happening in your life, but totally aware that you could screw it up at any moment because you're just human."

She briefly feuded with Tina Fey

In August 2017 on Today, Kathie Lee was interviewing Tituss Burgess from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and claimed she'd met many of his co-stars and colleagues with the exception of Tina Fey, according to E! News.

The Saturday Night Live legend caught wind of that conversation, and felt the need to correct the record. "Let's go into the vault, Kathie—Kathryn Lee," Fey said in a video message. "Because I have been on the show, and I've talked to you. And I must have been boring because you don't remember me." Fey put her money where her mouth was. "I think I've been on. I've been on. I'm willing to bet $100 that I've been on the show, so let's roll that clip." And there it was: Fey was, in fact, on the Today show in 2015 talking about the comedy Sisters.

When the cameras cut back to Kathie Lee, she was clearly embarrassed and blamed the snafu on old age. "I'm sorry!" she said. "My bad, Tina Fey. I'm a senior citizen now, okay? And we tend to forget things, a lot of things, most things. Now let's ask her to come back so we can talk some more." 

Kathie wants a Rabbinical degree?

On Kathie Lee's 60th birthday in 2013, she announced her desire to go back to school. The idea popped up after a viewer wrote in that they were pursuing a college degree at age 60. "I want to go to Yeshiva University and become a rabbi," Kathie Lee said in response, according to The Times of Israel. "I want to get my Orthodox rabbinical degree." She later quipped to Kotb, "I want to understand what words mean, what all the context is. I'm so fascinated by that stuff."

During an interview with Larry King in 2000, Kathie Lee called herself a "Russian-Jew peasant." She added, "Well, my father's Jewish by birth and by race and blood. My mom was raised Christian, and we were raised in a godly home… No, we didn't go to synagogue, but I was raised with many Jewish traditions and raised to be very grateful for my Jewish heritage."

Why Howard Stern apologized to her

Kathie Lee and Howard Stern's drama dates back to 1997. According to Us Weekly, the bad blood between them began brewing when Stern caught wind that Kathie Lee's husband, Frank, allegedly cheated on her with another woman. "She looks like the biggest idiot," Stern said at the time. Two years later, Stern split from his wife, and Kathie Lee reportedly wrote him a kind letter about marriage. But the shock jock mocked her gesture on his radio show.

"I have never had anything against Howard," Kathie Lee told Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live in 2014. "I had never met Howard until two years ago when he was getting ready to [be a judge on] America's Got Talent." She sought him out backstage and said, "I think it's probably time we said 'hi,' and he was stunned."

After the meeting, Kathie Lee said she missed a call from Stern. He left her a voicemail apologizing for his past behavior. "You never deserved it," he reportedly told her. "'You've always been so nice. You just pissed me off because you were everything I wasn't." She said they later connected over the phone and had a powerful and healing conversation.

She's extremely charitable

Kathie Lee does more than drink wine during the fourth hour of Today. She's also a first-rate philanthropist who founded both the Cody Gifford House and Cassidy's Place to help children suffering from a variety of ailments and needs. In 2011, she recalled the experience that drove her to pursue more charity work, telling Today"I remember holding my first AIDS baby in my one arm, and my 3-month-old son Cody in my other arm. The disparity and the injustice of my son being born healthy into prosperity, and this other little baby was just born. That's all that it did. It didn't take intravenous drugs, it hadn't had unprotected sex, it was just born… That just really affected me," she said, "and so Frank and I got more and more involved with [the Association to Benefit Children.]