Kathie Lee Gifford has had a long and successful career. Alongside her now-late co-anchor Regis Philbin, the French native became a household name as a presenter on The Morning Show. She also became involved in several other media projects and wrote children’s books.
Besides her professional work, Gifford’s private life also caught the public’s attention. She’s been married twice, with her second marriage to Frank Gifford lasting nearly 30 years until his passing in 2015.
Before that, Gifford, 68, was married to composer and Christian music publisher Paul Johnson. The couple married when Kathie was 22, but their marriage became a disaster. In fact, Gifford was left crying on her wedding night.
Kathie Lee Gifford was born on August 16, 1953, in Paris, France. Her father worked as an American naval officer and a jazz saxophonist on weekends, and her mother was a former naval secretary. She had changed her career to radio, where she was a singer.
Kathie Lee Gifford – early life
Since their father was stationed in several European countries, Kathie and her siblings lived in several places. They grew up in France, but in 1957, the family moved back to the United States and settled in Bowie, Maryland.
Katie Lee Gifford’s life has long been very religious. One of her grandparents was Jewish, with Kathie mainly growing up in a Jewish environment. However, she attended Methodist Sunday school in Bowie, and at 12, she became a Christian after seeing a Christian film named The Restless Ones.
“For most of my childhood, my family honored God in a general sense but didn’t know him personally. We were culturally Jewish on my father’s side and culturally Christian on my mother’s side. But our faith—and indeed everything about our lives—began to change one night when I was 12,” she told Christianity Today.
“I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television. A couple years prior, President Kennedy had been assassinated, so I walked in thinking, ‘what cataclysmic event has happened this time.’ But I discovered that my mother and sister had been watching one of Billy Graham’s televised crusades. That night they both came to Christ.”
From a young age, Kathie Lee Gifford wanted to become an actress and a singer. She felt that God was with her “at every twist and turn,” and at 17, Gifford got her first taste of fame as she won her state Junior Miss Pageant.
Discovered at a beauty contest
She went to Alabama, where she represented her state of Maryland in the national competition, and there a meeting changed the course of her life.
In Mobile, Alabama, Gifford met Christian singer, and co-host of the pageant competition, Anita Bryant. She saw that Kathie Lee had great potential as a singer, and decided to invite her to live with Anita and her husband in Florida. Gifford accepted their invite, and while she was occasionally working as a singer in Southern Baptist churches and doing secretarial work for Anita, she also babysat their child.
“Anita invited me to live with her and her family in Miami,” Gifford explained. “She and her husband wanted to pour what they knew into someone, and they felt that in the 10 years they’d been looking that I was the one.”
However, she added that when being with Anita, her voice started to change.
“My voice started sounding like Anita’s,” Gifford added. “Her voice is immediately recognizable, and I’d hear myself sing, and I’d say, ‘That sounds just like her!’”