Kathie Lee Gifford (born Kathryn Lee Epstein; August 16, 1953) is an American television hostess, singer, actress, noted for her 15-year run (1985–2000) on the television talk show Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, which she co-hosted with Regis Philbin. She has received 11 Emmy nominations. Before her long stint in talk shows, Gifford's first television exposure was that of Tom Kennedy's singer/sidekick on Name That Tune, from 1974 to 1978.
On April 7, 2008, Gifford started co-hosting the fourth hour of NBC's Today Show with Hoda Kotb. They replaced Ann Curry and Natalie Morales. The shows ratings increased by 14 points within the first two months of Gifford's arrival.
Her paternal grandfather was Jewish and her mother was a Methodist; Gifford grew up in a culturally Jewish environment, but she became a born-again Christian at the age of 12 (after seeing a The Restless Ones, a Christian education film directed by Billy Graham), and told interviewer Larry King, "I was raised with many Jewish traditions and raised to be very grateful for my Jewish heritage. Her brother, Rev. David Paul Epstein, is an evangelical Baptist preacher and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church on West 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City. David and Kathie Lee have remained close through the years.
She has two children, Cody, 18 and Cassidy, 15.
By that time, she was several months into her most famous television role, as a full-time morning talk show personality. On June 24, 1985, she replaced Ann Abernathy as co-host of The Morning Show on WABC-TV with Regis Philbin. The chemistry between the two provided stability to a show that had gone through a series of titles and hosts (AM New York, The Stanley Siegel Show) during the previous decade. The program went into national broadcast in 1988, as Live with Regis and Kathie Lee (now Live with Regis and Kelly) and Gifford became well-known across the country. Throughout the 1990s, millions of morning-TV viewers watched her descriptions of life at home with her sportscaster husband and their two children: son Cody Newton Gifford (born in 1990) and Cassidy Erin Gifford (born in 1993), although Gifford has been gently ridiculed for constantly talking about her children on the air. She has appeared as a spokesperson for Slim Fast diet shakes after the birth of Cody.
The inspiration for the name Cody (the first born child) is when Gifford was watching Frank on a Monday Night Football game in 1989 featuring the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears (the Browns went on to win 27-7 with Webster Slaughter catching a 99-yard touchdown pass and therefore tying the NFL record). Cody Risien was an offensive lineman for the Browns and got much attention during the course of the contest because he was struggling with removing a piece of dirt or other foreign object from his eye that forced him to the sideline. The announcers kept on panning the camera over to Risien and the name Cody was indelibly etched on Gifford's brain.
In 1996, the National Labor Committee, a human rights group, reported that sweatshop labor was used to make clothes for the Kathie Lee line, sold at Wal-Mart. The group reported that a worker in Honduras smuggled a piece of clothing out of the factory, which had a Kathie Lee label on it. One of the workers, Wendy Diaz, came to the United States to testify about the conditions under which she worked. She commented that "I wish I could talk to [Kathie Lee]. If she's good, she will help us.
Labor activist Charles Kernaghan spoke to the media and accused Gifford of being responsible for the sweat shop management activity. Gifford addressed Kernaghan's allegations on the air during Live, explaining that she was not involved with hands-on project management in factories. Gifford subsequently contacted Federal authorities to investigate the issue, and worked with U.S. Federal legislative and executive branch agencies to support and enact new U.S. laws to protect children against sweat shop conditions. She appeared with President Clinton at the White House in support of U.S. Federal government initiatives to counter international sweat shop abuses. (Years later, on April 13, 2007, in an unrelated appearance at the National Press Club, Gifford, in answer to questions, stated that Kernaghan had called her three months after his first public allegations against her and apologized.)
In September 2005 she became a special correspondent on The Insider, a syndicated entertainment magazine television show, although she no longer appears regularly.
In February 2007 Gifford was attending a CD-signing event at a shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey. During this event Gifford was attacked by Joey Boots, a member of The Wack Pack from the Howard Stern Show. After signing Boots' CD, Boots removed a box from a shopping bag, threw it at Gifford, from which two dozen white mice emerged. Boots was evicted from the mall, and Gifford was unhurt.
Kathie Lee is a celebrity ambassador for the non-profit organization Childhelp. She regularly makes appearances at fund raisers and events for the child abuse prevention and treatment organization and is an ardent supporter.
Kathie Lee and her husband raised the money to build and continue to financially support two shelters in New York City for babies born with HIV or a congenital crack cocaine addiction. These shelters were named in honor of her children, Cody and Cassidy.
It was announced on 31st March 2008, that Kathie Lee was joining NBC on its top-rated morning show, Today, as co-host of the fourth hour, alongside Hoda Kotb. This marked her return to morning television and was significant because in many markets she now airs directly after her old show, now called "Live with Regis and Kelly." Because the 4th hour of Today airs live at 10:00am EST, and "Live with Regis and Kelly" airs live at 9:00am EST, Gifford's hour will not compete directly with her former show in most markets.
On 1 July, 2008, Kathie Lee appeared on NBC’s new show Celebrity Family Feud. Kathie Lee and her friends and family competed against the cast of Dog The Bounty Hunter for their favorite charity. Kathie Lee's family won the $50,000 for The Association to Benefit Children. She is a recipient of the Mousecar Award, which was personally designed by Walt Disney.
In 2007, she premiered Saving Aimee at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. Saving Aimee is about the life and times of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. The premiere stars Tony-nominated actress Carolee Carmello in the role of McPherson.
On April 16, 2007, Gifford was a guest presenter at the Washington, DC Helen Hayes Award Ceremony, honoring contributions and professional accomplishments in theatre.