As a couple, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford took scandals in stride
Things weren’t always perfect for Kathie Lee Gifford and the late Frank Gifford during the 29 years they were married -- but the couple weathered their scandals pretty darned well.
It was the second marriage for Kathie Lee and third for Frank. They’d met while working on “Good Morning America” and been friends for about four years before they got romantically involved. They married in 1986 and had two kids, Cody and Cassidy, now 25 and 22.
On “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee,” the couple’s life sounded perfect, despite the 23-year age gap between them. They shared the same birthday -- he would have been 85 this coming Sunday -- and she talked about him frequently on the air.
Alas, it was business that sparked the first scandal they would face.
A Kathie Lee-branded clothing line for Wal-Mart was being manufactured using child labor in Honduras, according to Charles Kernagan, leader of the National Labor Committee. She came out denying it, then found herself crying over Kernahan’s testimony before Congress about factory conditions.
After that, according to Forbes, the Giffords changed their tune, attempting to make amends with the workers, financially and otherswise, and pledging to be activists against labor violations.
Things went from the boardroom to the bedroom in 1997, when the Globe tabloid published a story about Frank’s two-day liaison at a hotel with a married flight attendant, Suzen Johnson. He initially denied it all, to the world and to his wife, until the Globe published stills and a transcript from video of the illicit encounters.
“This experience has been as painful for us as it would be for any other couple,” the Giffords said at the time in a statement obtained by People. “However, we will get through this together. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time.”
Sounds like a template for about a dozen other celebrity statements released just this summer, no? Lots of words, not a lot of meat.
But by 2000, Kathie Lee had forgiven her football-hero hubby, telling People (via Page Six) that she’d had to fall in love with him all over again, because the marriage was forever changed.
“There’s no magic formula. We stayed home, we stayed in the word of God,” the devout Christian told the magazine. “We stayed in bed.… It’s the best thing in the world when somebody’s truly asked forgiveness.”
They apparently kept the kids in the dark about what had happened. “They never saw us argue, never saw an angry moment,” Kathie Lee said. “Never saw us sleep in separate rooms. They never saw Daddy leave.”
She told “Entertainment Tonight” around the same time that she’d forgiven Frank in large part because of the kids.
“If I had run when Frank had his temporary insanity, which he was set up for, let’s face it, then our children wouldn’t have their father,” she explained.
The next time allegations of infidelity by Frank were leveled, the names were bigger and the Giffords’ denials were more successful.
In a 2013 memoir, Johnny Carson’s lawyer Henry Bushkin wrote that in the ‘70s, Frank had slept with Johnny’s second wife, Joanne. Bushkin said the TV host talked him into going along with a team that was breaking into Joanne’s apartment to look for evidence of an affair. Apparently, they found a lot of it.
“Crushed by the overwhelming amount of evidence, Carson leaned against the living room wall and began to weep,” Bushkin wrote. “It was a painfully uncomfortable moment.” It was also a moment when Carson had a .38 in his belt, according to a book excerpt published by Entertainment Weekly.
Kathie Lee discussed the story live on the fourth hour of the “Today” show, which by that time she was co-hosting with Hoda Kotb, saying that when she heard the story, she’d called Frank -- who of course wasn’t her husband in the ‘70s.
“He said, ‘Do you believe this?’ I said, ‘Tell me … it was a long time ago, did you have an affair with her?,’” Kathie Lee told Hoda and the audience.
“He said, ‘I can’t remember. Maybe?’”
She did, however, note that while this story wasn’t true, her hubby was definitely capable of doing such a thing. Then she tied a bow on it, declaring the story debunked.
“It’s never,” Kathie Lee reminded everyone, “dull in our house.”
And it was at their home that Frank Gifford died unexpectedly Sunday of natural causes.
“Deeply grateful to all 4 ur outpouring of grace,” Kathie Lee tweeted the afternoon of his death. We r steadfast in our faith & finding comfort in knowing where Frank is. Philippians 4:13.”
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.