Kathie Lee Gifford has been in American homes for years. First she was the witty co-host with Regis Philbin. Then she joined the fourth hour of Good Morning America with Hoda Kotb. With her bubbly personality and mama-bear instincts, she’s hard not to love.
Still, America didn’t know a lot about her faith until recent years, when she opened up after the death of her husband, Frank, and then the death of Billy Graham.
Katie Lee, one of America’s sweethearts, wasn’t even born in the States. In 1953, she was born in Paris to an American naval officer and naval secretary. She spent her first four years in France before her parents moved back to Maryland to work at a resort hotel.
In a recent interview, she describes her family as culturally Jewish on her father’s side and culturally Christian on her mother’s side. They honored God in most ways, but they were far from having a personal relationship with Him. Kathy Lee’s grandparents were Jewish, and she said she mostly associated with that culture.
That is until one night, when Kathie Lee was 12 years old. She walked into the living room and saw her mother and sister crying. Kathie Lee thought something terrible had happened. John F. Kennedy had been shot a few years earlier, so she thought something similar but worse was going on.
Her mother and sister were watching a Billy Graham crusade on TV, and they both accepted Christ that night. A few months later, Kathie Lee went to see one of Billy Graham’s films, “The Restless Ones,” and it changed her life for good.
In the film, a reporter is doing a story on a pastor who is working with troubled teens. The reporter doesn’t know that his son is getting involved with a troubled teenage girl, and they’re both headed for a meltdown. Billy Graham even stars in the film as himself.
When Kathie Lee saw the movie, she knew she wanted a deeper relationship with God.
“As I watched, I heard a voice speak to me directly,” Kathie Lee told Christianity Today. “Although it wasn’t audible, I sensed God saying, deep in my spirit, ‘Kathie, I love you. If you’ll trust Me, I’ll make something beautiful out of your life.’ ”
At the end of the movie, there was an invitation to come forward and accept Jesus. Kathie Lee said she could barely stay in her chair long enough for them to finish the sentence before she ran to the front.
“From that point on, God was with me at every twist and turn, every decision,” Kathie Lee said.
On to Hollywood, Then New York
She ended up at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, but dropped out in her junior year after finding out about some of the manipulation that was happening at the school. Ever since she accepted Jesus, Kathie Lee had been trying to make it as a Christian singer, and she was working hard to make that a reality.
Still, she never hit it big as a recording artist.
She moved to Hollywood, where she was hired to act on “Days of Our Lives.” After nine months on the soap opera, she started to see her secular career blossom. She did a few TV pilots and commercial jingles, but her big break came in 1982 when she substituted for Regis Philbin on his radio show in New York.
A producer at “Good Morning America” happened to hear the segment and offered her a job standing in for Joan Lunden. She moved from Hollywood to New York to start her career in journalism. That’s when Regis saw one of her segments and decided to hire her as a cohost on his new TV news program.
Trouble in Paradise
As America was falling in love with Kathie Lee, she was falling in love with former football player, Frank Gifford. She publicly doted on her husband and children, talking about them often on her TV show with Regis, but tragedy hit the couple when Frank was photographed with a flight attendant.
Still, her faith remained strong. Kathie Lee decided to stay with her husband.
“The story of my life — and, I dare say, any Christian’s life — is not the story of my faithfulness to God but of His faithfulness to me,” Kathy Lee explained.
Kathie Lee and Frank both stopped watching TV, instead devoting their time to reading the Bible.
“It became our Hebrews 12:2 moment, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, Who endured the shame of the cross on our behalf,” Kathie Lee said.
The first call she got when the news of her husband’s infidelity broke was from Billy Graham, with whom the couple had become friends over the years. She loved that Billy Graham’s message never changed since the night she saw “The Restless Ones.” He was always preaching that God’s love never fails.
The Gifford’s marriage recovered, and the pair stayed strong in their faith.
Sharing the Message
Kathie Lee has this talent for certain monologues that give you chills and cut you right to your core. There have only been a handful of them in her career, but they stand out to everyone who watched them live on air or caught them on Youtube.
The first was after her husband died. She had already left her show with Regis to host with Hoda Kotb on the “Today” show and she decided to use her position to tell everyone about her husband’s life, death and faith.
“I sat in my chair in the studio, looked into the camera, and told viewers about the core of our Christian faith,” Kathie Lee said. “I said that Frank died in complete peace, knowing that every sin he’d ever committed was forgiven, and with the hope that we would one day be together with the Lord. Our faith had always been the answer, and it could be theirs too.”
The second was when Billy Graham died.
“What just happened for Billy, happened for my husband, happened for my mother, for my father,” Kathie Lee said on “Megyn Kelly TODAY.”. “Every body that dies in Christ goes immediately into the arms of Christ for eternity. That is the hope of the Christian faith.”
The now-viral clip has been shared more than 6,000 times and viewed more than 324,000 times on Youtube. That’s not counting the number of people who saw it live or those who watched it on the “Today” show’s website.
While Billy Graham is no longer preaching on Earth, people like Kathie Lee and the countless others who heard his message will carry on his mission to spread the Gospel to anyone and everyone who will listen.