Kathie Lee Gifford's Dramatic Transformation

Kathie Lee Gifford is best known for TV gigs, such as co-hosting "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee," with Regis Philbin. However, besides her broadcast television career, Gifford has worn many hats, including singer, writer, and producer, as noted by her website.

Gifford is often viewed as an American television staple. Yet, rather than being from a family of actors or newscasters, Gifford was born into a musical family. Born in Paris as Kathie Lee Epstein in 1953, her father, Aaron Epstein, was a jazz musician, and her mother, Joan Epstein, was a singer. Aaron was also an officer in the U.S. Navy, and Gifford was born in Paris while the family was stationed in France. According to Biography, the Epsteins moved back to the U.S. in the late 1950s, later calling Maryland their home.

While she has dealt with some tragic moments in her life, other turning points have been more positive. Regardless, all have shaped the person Kathie Lee Gifford is today.

Kathie Lee Gifford changed religions at the age of 11

While born into a Jewish family, Kathie Lee Gifford converted to Christianity when she was 11 years old. According to People, Gifford's mother, Joan Epstein, was inspired to convert after seeing a Billy Graham special on television. The evangelist preacher had such a profound effect on Gifford's mother that the rest of their family also were inspired to follow Christianity. This included Gifford, her sister, and her father. 

Since then, Gifford's religion has had a massive impact on her career and personal life. In an interview excerpt from the "Whoa That's Good" podcast, CBN reported Gifford as explaining, "Ever since I entered this industry in a full-time way when I was 17 years old, the Lord was very, very clear with me and He said: 'Never separate the secular from the spiritual. You live in my world, you live in my world.' People will try to say Hollywood is secular ... But God is everywhere."

Kathie Lee Gifford's career began in Christian music

Both Kathie Lee Gifford's family musical background and influences along with her own passion for her Christian faith led her to early career pursuits in Christian music. As Biography reported, it all started when Gifford (then still Epstein) met singer and activist Anita Bryant while she was participating in a national beauty pageant in Alabama. Bryant talked Gifford into pursuing a gospel career, and she even reportedly helped her get into Oral Roberts University to study music. However, she didn't graduate due to her disagreements with the way the program was run. "They tried to cookie-cutter all of us," she told People. "I wanted the diversity of life. God went to the trouble to make us unique. They wanted us to believe the same way, think the same way." 

She eventually made her way to Los Angeles, where she tried to land acting and singing gigs. She found a niche in gospel music, and Kathie Lee began her painful first marriage to Paul Johnson, a gospel music producer and Bible study group leader. They were married for six years, but the couple divorced due to never having the right chemistry. "It was not passionate, and it was not successful, but it was polite," Gifford later told People in 1992. Despite these issues in their marriage, Biography noted that the couple were successful together from a professional stance due to their gospel music output. 

In 1988, Kathie Lee Gifford landed her first major hosting gig on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee

Kathie Lee Gifford previously appeared on various television shows early in her career. However, her big break came in the late 1980s when she and Regis Philbin hosted "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee." The talk show premiered on ABC in September 1988. Of her time working with Philbin, Gifford said in a 2022 interview with "Good Day New York," as reported by Good Housekeeping, "He was, for 15 years, the best partner a person could ever, ever have professionally, but he was my friend. We were dear friends and after I left the show, for the next 20 years, we became better friends, dearer friends."

In July 2000, Gifford left the series. Philbin went on to host the show himself temporarily until Kelly Ripa joined in 2001. "Live!" has since evolved over the years, with Ripa co-hosting with Michael Strahan, Ryan Seacrest, and then Ripa's own husband, Mark Consuelos.

In 2000, Kathie Lee Gifford talked publicly about her husband's affair

Kathie Lee Gifford married former NFL player and television analyst Frank Gifford in 1986. This was Kathie Lee's second marriage, and Frank's third. Throughout the years, the couple were visibly smitten with one another, even on the air. However, as with all marriages, things weren't always so easy for the couple. As the Los Angeles Times reported, after a tabloid ran pictures of Frank having an affair with another woman in 1997, many wondered whether Kathie Lee would choose to stay married to him.

However, not only did Kathie Lee and Frank decide to stay together, but Kathie Lee chose to speak about the ordeal publicly. "We've come so far in three years," she explained in a 2000 interview with CNN's Larry King. "We have, you know, we've dealt with it, a very difficult and very painful issue. And if it is going to help somebody, let's talk about it." Kathie Lee sat for an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer just days before, this time with Frank beside her. According to the New York Post, Frank told Sawyer, "It's much harder to forgive yourself. [The tryst] was stupid — that's kind of hard to forgive when you're as vain as I am."

Kathie Lee Gifford decided to return to television in 2008

After taking time off from broadcast television, Kathie Lee Gifford decided to come back as a co-host for the fourth hour of NBC's "Today Show." The weekday segment developed a strong fan following, due in part to Kathie Lee's chemistry with co-host, Hoda Kotb. The pair co-hosted the show for about 11 years. Interestingly, the public found out later that Kathie Lee pushed for Kotb to be her co-host. "Kathie Lee said ... 'If it's not Hoda, I'm not going to do it,'" Kotb said in an interview on Bethenny Frankel's podcast, as reported by Today. "She chose me and I am forever grateful."

Another interesting part of Kathie Lee's time on the show was the ubiquitous presence of her husband, Frank Gifford. Frank regularly appeared on the show, but he was also a big influence behind the scenes. This could be partly due to his own broadcast television hosting experiences. Nevertheless, the way Kathie Lee talked to him (and sometimes about him) appealed to the audience. For example, the Los Angeles Times noted that Kathie Lee would call her husband "Lamb Chop" on the air, and also make comments about their love life. "Most of the time, I tried not to listen to it," Frank previously told the Archive of American Television, as reported by the Times. "I know her heart, and I know her soul. She wouldn't hurt anyone."

Kathie Lee Gifford's husband, Frank Gifford, died in 2015

Kathie Lee Gifford's life changed unexpectedly in 2015 when her husband, Frank Gifford, died suddenly at the age of 84. Months after his death, the Gifford family told The New York Times that Frank had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (better known as "CTE"), which was from head trauma likely connected to his time playing football.

Despite this, Frank's death was a shock to Kathie Lee. "We laughed up to the very end," Kathie Lee said in an emotional segment on the "Today Show," as later reported by CNN. "I just want everybody to know that this is a man who was at complete peace in his life. He might have been the happiest, most content person in the world at this point in his life ... His world got smaller as his God got bigger, and he'd want you to know that, that he died in complete peace. He knew every sin he committed was forgiven." Kathie Lee undoubtedly relied on her faith, as well as her family and friends, to get her through this difficult time in her life and as she navigated her new identity as a widow.

In 2019, Kathie Lee Gifford left the Today Show for other creative pursuits

After co-hosting the fourth hour on the "Today Show" with Hoda Kotb for 11 years, Kathie Lee Gifford decided to leave her role. While the decision may have been shocking for fans, it turns out that Gifford gave NBC her notice a couple of years prior to this. During an appearance on "The Tonight Show," she told host Jimmy Fallon that her husband's sudden death partly contributed to her decision. "I realized just recently that I'm in a state where I never dreamed I'd be," she said in the 2019 interview, as quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm a widow, I'm an orphan and I'm an empty nester and that just hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time in my life, I have the time and the means to go and do anything I want to do."

As such, Gifford shifted her focus from broadcast news to creative pursuits based on some of her life-long passions. Among these include writing Christian books and songs, and also establishing her non-profit organization, "The Rock, The Road, and The Rabbi Foundation." Her first film called "The God Who Sees" was Gifford's directorial debut, and it was viewed by more than one million people online. "Apparently it is unheard of in the Christian world now to have this kind of reaction," Gifford told Birmingham Christian Family magazine. "We are just in awe of God's goodness and faithfulness."

Kathie Lee Gifford received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

In 2021, Kathie Lee Gifford joined other celebrities in Los Angeles with her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This honor followed her induction into the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame a few years prior. The Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is considered a historical landmark, currently features over 2,700 stars, according to the official website, and between 200 and 300 people are nominated every year.

Gifford was awarded the 2,695th star, which you can find at 6834 Hollywood Boulevard near Regis Philbin's own star. While there was an official ceremony for her induction, the event was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her inductee page on the Walk of Fame website, guest speakers at Gifford's event included Hoda Kotb, Dolly Parton, and Craig Ferguson. "Y'all picked well," Kotb said in her speech, as reported by Entertainment Tonight. "Kathie Lee Gifford is so deserving of this star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is in a class all by herself. Kathie Lee is an original. I know because I got to sit next to her for 11 years."

Kathie Lee Gifford revealed a serious relationship in 2021

Kathie Lee Gifford was undoubtedly close with her late husband, Frank Gifford, and it took several years for her to enter the dating world again (in fact, it had been more than three decades since Kathie Lee had been on a date). While she reportedly started dating a few people in 2019, she told Today that nothing was serious. This seemed to change when Kathie Lee officially started a relationship with Randy Cronk, an insurance agent she met while they both lived in Tennessee. "I've been ready for love," she told Closer Weekly in 2019. "Whatever God has for me, I'm open."

However, little of Kathie Lee's relationship with Randy Cronk is known, because she found a more serious love in another man, businessman Richard Spitz. Their relationship was officially confirmed in 2021, but unlike Kathie Lee's marriage with Frank, details of her daily life with Spitz remain largely private. "I've discovered that by not talking about it, it stays special," she told People about her relationship with Spitz in 2022. As of 2023, the two are still dating.

Kathie Lee Gifford became a grandmother in 2022

In June 2022, Kathie Lee Gifford shared the exciting news that she officially became a grandmother. Her grandson, Frank ("Frankie") Michael Gifford, was born to her son Cody and his wife Erika. In a sweet Instagram photo of the three at the hospital, Kathie Lee wrote, "Frank Michael Gifford is here, confirming that our God is good and merciful and faithful. And he loves us!" The public was also quick to catch on to the fact that Cody and Erika named their baby boy after Cody's father and Kathie Lee's husband, the late Frank Gifford. His middle name, Michael, came from Erika's late uncle, according to Today.

Frankie undoubtedly brought great joy to the Kathie Lee and the Gifford family. Yet the new grandmother also had another surprise in store — her daughter, Cassidy Erin Gifford, gave birth to her first baby about a year after Frankie was born. Cassidy and her husband, Ben Wierda, named their baby boy Finn Thomas Wierda, according to Today. Not only did Kathie Lee become a grandmother to one grandson, but now she has two young grandsons to spoil with her love and attention.

In 2023, Kathie Lee Gifford celebrated her 70th birthday

In August 2023, Kathie Lee Gifford celebrated a huge milestone: her 70th birthday. While she has been known on the public scene for decades, fans were still likely shocked by this milestone due to Gifford's energy and vitality. Her children posted sweet pictures of her with them and her grandsons on social media, and she also had some other social media shoutouts from friends and former co-workers. For example, Hello Magazine reported that NBC's Jill Martin wrote, alongside a picture of her and Gifford, "We grew into best friends, a ride or die who is always there ... in good times and in bad ..."

As Gifford considers her future, it seems that she is focusing more on family and friends, as well as her Christian-based creative projects like books, songs, and oratorios. "There might be people that don't know God yet and don't know that He loves him," Gifford explained on the podcast "Whoa That's Good," as reported by CBN. "But there is no godless place on this planet. There's no godless place in this cosmos and all of creation. God, the Creator, is everywhere." Over the past 70 years, Gifford has had a full career and played many different roles, but it's obvious that her religious roots have remained grounded throughout.