Tragic Details About Katie Couric's Life

The following article mentions sexual misconduct allegations and eating disorders.

Katie Couric remains one of the most famous names in journalism. Starting her career at ABC News in Washington, she worked her way up to the highest echelons of broadcast journalism, becoming the plucky mainstay of NBC's "Today" for 15 years. Thereafter, she famously transitioned to CBS Evening News in 2006, becoming the first woman to host a primetime news show in the US.

Winning a litany of awards and a whopping $15 million a year salary to boot, she became a household name, renowned for her beaming smile and perennially optimistic outlook. But Couric's rapid rise to success is all the more impressive given the challenges she has faced in her personal life. Behind that famous grin lies immense tragedy. And the journalist is all too aware of the discordance between her Pollyanna onscreen persona and the woman behind the mask. "On TV, you are larger than life but somehow smaller, too, a neatly cropped version of who you are," she wrote in her memoir, "Going There." "Real life — the complications and contradictions, the messy parts — remains outside the frame."

Throughout the years, the host has endured multiple losses, health scares, and personal struggles. So, let's take a look at the woman behind the plucky persona: grab the tissues as we run through tragic details about Katie Couric's life.

Katie Couric lost her husband to colorectal cancer

In 1989, Katie Couric married Jay Monahan, a legal analyst for NBC. It was love at first sight for Couric, who told People that she was drawn to his "mischievous" charm. The couple had two daughters together, Carrie and Ellie Monahan. But their equanimity was broken when Jay was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the spring of 1997.

He had been experiencing stomach pains, but other than that didn't have any symptoms. In an essay for Time, Couric recalled that that year's Thanksgiving was the worst of her life, as she struggled to watch her husband waste away from cancer. "Nearly twenty years later, when I think of that Thanksgiving, it makes me cry," she wrote. "My healthy, handsome, athletic husband — the college football and lacrosse player — had become thin and gaunt."

In January 1998, Jay Monahan collapsed at the couple's home and died soon after, aged just 42. In her aforementioned chat with People, Couric admitted that she wished she'd spent her husband's final days helping him prepare for death, as opposed to holding onto hope that she may be able to prolong his life. "I was so worried about letting go of hope, because I didn't want Jay to spend whatever time he had left just waiting to die," she said. "I think it takes extraordinary courage to be able to face death, and I think I was too scared, honestly." In the aftermath of her loss, she co-founded Stand Up 2 Cancer.

The journalist found it difficult being a single mom

Katie Couric's daughters were aged just 6 and 2 when Jay Monahan died. Being so young, Ellie and Carrie Monahan never really knew their father. Subsequently, Couric told Today that she wrote her 2021 memoir "Going There" so that her daughters could get to know their late dad. "They both called me in tears, and I think they're grateful for the book," she explained.

When Monahan died, Couric struggled with single motherhood. In an interview with More (via the Daily Mail), she lamented that her daughters grew up without a father figure. "I think life is more fun when you have someone in your life," she reflected. "And I always wanted to find a father figure for my daughters, but it hasn't worked out that way."

Speaking to the New York Post, she opened up about the difficulties of raising children in the wake of such tragedy. However, she highlighted the importance of honoring Monahan's memory, such as sending balloons up to the sky on their father's birthday and reading the letters he wrote to his children. Couric's cancer awareness work has also been instrumental in helping her daughters heal. "Ellie was 9 when she turned to me in the kitchen and said, 'I am so proud of the work you have done,'" she said. "That meant more to me than anything I've ever done... that their mom is doing something to help other people because we lost our dad."

Katie Couric's eating disorder struggles

When she was a teenager, Katie Couric began struggling with bulimia, an illness that continued for years. In an interview with People, she acknowledged that her perfectionism played into disordered eating. However, as a baby boomer, she also blamed the beauty standards of the 1960s on her desire to be super thin. "There was so much pressure on women, and dieting was so much a part of the culture," she said.

But as her health declined, Couric realized that she was harming her body. Accordingly, it was the death of Karen Carpenter that proved a major wake-up call. "I really just started to understand how dangerous it was," she reflected. "When Karen Carpenter died [of heart failure caused by years of anorexia] in 1983, it shook me to the core." These days, in an effort to maintain her peace, she forgoes focusing on weight and numbers. As such, she looks away whenever she's weighed at the doctor's office, conceding that the number on the scale is arbitrary.

Speaking to Vogue in 2023, Couric acknowledged that, though she is in recovery, she still struggles with disordered eating, something that she attributes to the ubiquity of toxic diet culture. "You see these women on Instagram," she explained, "these celebrities who suddenly look much thinner than they were, and you feel like I should be doing that. It's a vicious cycle, and it's hard to fight it."

Katie Couric faced workplace sexism

As a female journalist in a male-dominated industry, Katie Couric had to contend with sexist attitudes at work. In a 2008 interview with Israeli outlet Ha'aretz (via People), she opened up about the sexist discrimination she had faced in the workplace, comparing herself to Hillary Clinton, whom she believed had lost the Democratic presidential nomination due to her gender. At the time, she was heavily criticized for arguing that sexism is more tolerated than racism, though her rep later claimed that her comments were mistranslated.

Appearing at the #WeSeeEqual forum in 2018, Couric gave further insight into the sexism that had blighted her success as a journalist. According to E! News, she divulged that a male CNN executive, whom she declined to name, once made crude comments about her body. "She's successful because of her hard work, intelligence and breast size," she recalled him telling colleagues. Though the unnamed exec later called her to apologize, Couric lamented how widespread this level of sexist harassment is for women in male-dominated industries.

And it was this toxic environment that reportedly led to "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager firing Couric from CBS in 2011. "[CBS] felt like a boys' club, where a number of talented women seemed to be marginalized and undervalued," she told The New Yorker following the outlet's exposé into widespread misogyny at CBS, which was allegedly perpetuated and encouraged by Fager. She later sought justice by aiding journalists in exposing Fager's alleged sexual misconduct.

She lost her sister to pancreatic cancer

Katie Couric suffered yet more tragedy when she lost her older sister Emily Couric, who was a Democratic senator for Virginia. Writing about the loss on her website, Katie explained that Emily was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when she was at the height of her political career, with hopes of becoming the first female governor for Virginia. But by that point, the aggressive cancer was far too advanced, having spread to her liver. Despite undergoing various treatments, Emily got sicker. "She was no match for the disease that would ultimately take over her body," Katie wrote. "I can barely think about her during those final, gut-wrenching days. When Emily left us, I think a piece of my parents died too."

Emily died in 2001, a little over a year after her diagnosis. She was 54. Following her sister's death, Katie was supported by her "Good Morning America" colleagues. "We just want to say we don't know how much heartbreak one person can be expected to bear," Diane Sawyer said (via Wired), "but if we could console Katie in any way we could, at the very least we just want to send our love and condolences to her."

A decade after her death, the Emily Couric Clinical Care Center at the University of Virginia was opened in her honor. Katie paid tribute to her sister at the clinic's opening, finding comfort in the fact that she is able to help others even in death.

Katie Couric is a cancer survivor herself

In 2022, Katie Couric revealed that she had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer following a routine mammogram. "I felt sick and the room started to spin," she wrote on her website. The diagnosis came as a shock to the journalist, who had lost her husband and sister to cancer and whose parents had survived the disease. "Given my family's history of cancer, why would I be spared?" she conceded. "My reaction went from 'Why me?' to 'Why not me?' But breast cancer — that was a new one." Subsequently, she underwent surgery and doctors removed a 2.5 cm tumor from her breast. She also received radiation and was prescribed cancer medication. 

The ordeal was particularly stressful for Ellie and Carrie Monahan, who, Couric reflected, had already lost one parent to cancer. After being initially hesitant to tell her daughters, she eventually FaceTimed them. Although she reassured her daughters that the tumor had been detected early, they were understandably worried. "I was very reassuring, but I saw in their faces," she said on "Today." "It's just hard to deliver that news no matter how you do it."

Accordingly, she urged others to undergo regular cancer screening. "Please get your annual mammogram. I was six months late this time," she wrote on her website. "I shudder to think what might have happened if I had put it off longer."

The journalist's friend Matt Lauer wasn't who she thought he was

Matt Lauer was among scores of men exposed for their alleged problematic behavior in the wake of the MeToo movement. In November 2017, Lauer was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women and was fired by NBC as a result.

The revelations came as a shock to Katie Couric, who had worked with Lauer for 15 years. "The whole thing has been very painful for me," she told People. "The accounts I've read and heard have been disturbing, distressing and disorienting." Though she once considered Lauer a friend, Couric cut him out of her life, telling Today that she no longer has a relationship with him. She discussed the pair's falling out in explicit detail in her memoir, publishing private texts they exchanged. "I know Matt thinks I betrayed him, and that makes me sad," she said. "But he betrayed me, too, by how he behaved behind closed doors at the show we both cared about so much."

After the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced, Couric decided to conduct her own investigation into her former colleague, and was sickened by what she heard. But she also struggled to reconcile with the fact that someone she had known for so many years allegedly had a dark and disturbing side to him, which he managed to conceal. "It was really devastating," she admitted, "but also disgusting... there was a side of Matt I never really knew."

The host was devastated by her parents' deaths

Both of Katie Couric's parents suffered from ill health. Her mom, Elinor Hene Couric, lived with mantle cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system, for a decade. Meanwhile her dad, John Couric, a journalist and PR exec, survived prostate cancer.

John was also diagnosed with the degenerative condition Parkinson's disease. Though Katie was heartbroken to witness her father's declining health, she came to the painful realization that living was merely prolonging his suffering. "His quality of life had deteriorated... [As his condition worsened,] my mom said to me, 'There are worse things than dying,'" she told Good Housekeeping. "And when it comes to loss, I think his is the death I'm most at peace with." John died in 2011, at the age of 90.

Following her father's death, Katie cared for her elderly mother, whom she feared was suffering from loneliness after losing her husband of 54 years. Three years later, her mom also died. She was 91. "My heart is broken," Katie wrote on X. "I lost my mom and best friend. We love you and miss you, Mom/Granny." Paying tribute to her mom on Instagram in 2019, the journalist acknowledged that life had become darker and less fun since she died. "Michael Lindvall, the minister at Brick Church told me, 'Those who grieve deeply, love deeply,'" she wrote. "That always makes me a little less sad."

Katie Couric's ordeal with an allegedly abusive nanny

Katie Couric and Jay Monahan's wedded bliss was threatened when an allegedly abusive nanny entered the picture in the early '90s. In her memoir, "Going There," she detailed the nightmare she allegedly endured at the hands of a nanny, dubbed "Doris." She acknowledged that the two women had developed an unhealthy codependent relationship, as Couric was reliant on Doris to take care of her children. "I spent more time with Doris than anyone else in my life and I was completely unguarded around her," she wrote. "Doris and I really were a couple, in a weird kind of way."

But Doris appeared to be getting too close to Couric, something she found unsettling. Eventually, the journalist fired her after she allegedly tried to break up her marriage. But things took a turn for the worst thereafter, with Doris accusing Monahan of being a pedophile because he unbuttoned his pants in the presence of his daughter after a hearty family meal.

However, in an interview with the Daily Mail, "Doris," i.e. Nancy Poznek, refuted the allegations, claiming that Couric was neglecting herself, forgoing basic hygiene, and required intervention. "Katie said I couldn't do it without someone like Nancy," Poznek claimed. "I was important to her, I took care of her. Even Jeff Zucker (former Today executive producer), said as much." She also claimed that Couric ignored Monahan when he was suffering from gastrointestinal problems prior to his cancer diagnosis.

She was heartbroken over the death of her ex Bob Saget

Katie Couric briefly dated Bob Saget after meeting the comedian at the Scleroderma Research Foundation. Years later, Saget appeared on "Katie," Couric's short-lived talk show, where the pair shared a warm rapport. Couric revealed that they even had a smooch outside her apartment following their first date.

Although their encounter was fleeting, Saget evidently had an impact on Couric, who paid tribute to the comedian when he passed away unexpectedly. Saget died in his sleep after suffering head trauma in his hotel room in 2022. He was 65. In a since deleted Instagram post (via Hello!), Couric fondly remembered her late one-time ex. "He was funny and often filthy on stage," she wrote, "the complete opposite of his TV persona... One on one he was wonderful — funny, bright and incredibly charming. Just the nicest guy."

Saget's widow, Kelly Rizzo, revealed on her Instagram Story (via People) that she had found comfort and friendship in Couric, since the pair had both lost their spouses. The two were also spotted hanging out with Amanda Kloots, whose husband, Broadway star Nick Cordero, died of COVID-19 in 2020. "Women who have been there and understand have been so therapeutic and helpful and compassionate," Rizzo wrote. "It means so much." Following Saget's death, Couric used her platform to raise awareness of head injuries, advising others on what to do if they hit their head as the late comedian did.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who does, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).