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Kathie Lee Gifford (born Kathryn Lee Epstein on August 16, 1953) is an American television host, singer, actress and playwright, famous 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 lovable 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. She replaces Ann Curry and Natalie Morales.

Early life

Kathie Lee Gifford was born in Paris, France, to Aaron Leon Epstein and his wife, Joan. Her father was serving in the United States Navy. She grew up in Bowie, Maryland, in the United States where she was a cheerleader for Bowie High School. She also was a singer in a folk group, "Pennsylvania Next Right", which performed frequently at school assemblies. She has been criticized in the Washington area for identifying her hometown and current residence of her mother as Annapolis rather than Bowie.[1]

One of her grandparents 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 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. [2]

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.

Kathie Lee attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, studying drama and music.

She has two children, Cody, 18 and Cassidy, 14.


1970s

During one summer in the early 1970s she was a live-in secretary / babysitter for Anita Bryant at her home in Miami.

Gifford's career took off in the 1970s (during her first marriage to composer/arranger/producer/publisher Paul Johnson) as a vocalist on the game show Name That Tune with Tom Kennedy (she performed the "sing a tune" segment as Kathie Lee Johnson). In 1978, she joined the cast of the short-lived Hee Haw sitcom spinoff, Hee Haw Honeys.

Gifford appeared in television advertisements for Carnival Cruise Lines beginning in 1984. The ads were the first cruise line ads to air on network television.

Live with Regis and Kathie Lee

Following her divorce from Johnson in 1983, Gifford met sports commentator Frank Gifford during an episode of ABC's Good Morning America; the couple married in 1986. Coincidentally they share the same birthday, 23 years apart.

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.[3] 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.[4] 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."[5]

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 1997, it was reported by the tabloid The Globe that Frank Gifford had engaged in an adulterous affair with Trans World Airlines flight attendant Suzen Johnson. After initially denying the allegation, Frank Gifford admitted the transgression after it was revealed the entire episode had been caught on videotape. ESPN later reported that Johnson was paid $75,000 by The Globe.[6] The Atlantic put the figure at $125,000.[7] Johnson later appeared in a Playboy pictorial. Ironically, Kathie Lee had performed a cameo in The First Wives Club the year before, praising the main characters for rising above being cheated on and left for other women.


Later career
Since Live, Gifford has made guest appearances in films and television series, and has several independently released albums on CD, including 2000's The Heart of a Woman, featuring standards from the Big Band era as well as Contemporary Christian songs.

In September 2005 she became a special correspondent on The Insider, a syndicated entertainment magazine television show, although she no longer appears regularly.

Kathie Lee devotes time to Variety: The Children's Charity. She has also sponsored and supported 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 will be joining NBC on its top-rated morning show, Today, as co-host of the fourth hour, alongside Hoda Kotb. This marks her return to morning television and is significant because she will be directly following her old employer, 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 July 1st, 2008 Kathy Lee will appear on NBC’s new show Celebrity Family Feud. Kathy and her friends and family will compete against the cast of Dog The Bounty Hunter. The winner will donate the winnings to their favorite charity.


Playwright
In the late 1990s, Gifford began working in musical theatre as a playwright. She contributed a number of musical numbers to Hats, and wrote and produced Under The Bridge, based upon the children's book The Family Under The Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson, a book which won the Newbery Honor in 1959.

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.


Trivia

In the second episode of South Park, "Weight Gain 4000", Kathie Lee comes to South Park as Mr. Garrison's childhood rival. In the episode, Mr. Garrison tries to kill Kathie Lee, but ultimately fails because Cartman's fat ass (enhanced by the Weight Gain 4000) broke the stage, causing the bullet to hit Kenny instead. Gifford did not provide her own voice; she was impersonated by actress Karri Turner.

On the South Park album Chef Aid, Chef sings in the song No Substitute (track 9) how he wants to make love to Kathie Lee.

In a Season 3 episode of Hey Arnold!, Kathie Lee is parodied as Jackie Lee.

Gifford appeared as Miss Hannigan in a concert performance of Annie at Madison Square Garden in December 2006.

Her line of clothing has been discussed in the documentary film The Corporation as it was discovered that despite pledges to children's charities, the clothes were in fact manufactured in South American sweatshops by children as young as 13 years old (though Ms. Gifford was apparently oblivious of that fact until it became national news.)

She appeared as a guest on the Jiminy Glick show.

In a story line in the comic Get Fuzzy, Satchel is tricked by Bucky into sewing soccer balls for no money (he promised to pay Satchel what other dogs in the area were paid, which was nothing). After learning this, Rob says that Bucky is "Kitty Lee Gifford", in a reference to her clothes being manufactured in South American sweatshops.

Singer/songwriter Jill Sobule wrote a song about Gifford, "Kathie Lee," appearing on her EP It's the Thought That Counts (original 2001 issue only).

In Season 1, Episode 5 of Sam and Max an "Enemy List" is filled with "Kathy Lee Gifford", her parents, friends, etc.

She is a recipient of the Mousecar Award, which was personally designed by Walt Disney.[8]

In the Bloodhound Gang song: 'Shutup' Kathie Lee is mentioned, in a list of people Jimmy Pop doesn't like: "I hate Regis and I hate Kathie Lee".

She is also mentioned on the Kanye West song 'Jesus Walks' : "I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers, the way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus".

During 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.

On the episode "The Botched Language of Cranes" of the sitcom Frasier, Frasier refuses to host a charity hospital event because they replaced him as host last year with Kathie Lee Gifford.

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