Kathie Lee Gifford Stayed Celibate until 22 When She Wed 1st Husband — She Spent Wedding Night Sobbing
Kathie Lee Gifford's love stories were complex, with her thinking her first husband was "the ultimate Christian catch" and her second husband's "cheating is out of the question" but later became a big issue. She later feared her "window of opportunity to have healthy babies was closing."
In her 2020 memoir, "It's Never Too Late," Kathie Lee Gifford revealed that she met Paul Johnson in 1973. At the time, she was studying at Oral Roberts University, and the composer was the university founder's son's friend.
A year after meeting, in 1975, Kathie Lee was now living in Los Angeles and went to Johnson's home to attend Bible study. Her relocation was meant to allow her to launch a career in performance, and she auditioned for adverts, found work in soap operas, and recorded gospel albums.
Kathie Lee Gifford visits "Fox & Friends" on November 14, 2019, in New York City, and her posing in a promotional photo in 1982. | Source: John Lamparski & Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
According to her autobiography, "I Can't Believe I Said That!" Kathie Lee, then-22, felt like the last virgin in Hollywood. She and Johnson, then-29, started courting.
MARRYING PAUL JOHNSON
While the pair courted, the gospel composer appeared to draw close to Kathie Lee but would then pull back. However, the couple tied the knot in 1976, with the television personality convincing herself that he was "the ultimate Christian catch."
Kathie Lee Gifford in a promotional photo for "Good Morning America," circa 1983. | Source: Steve Fenn /Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Having had an instant attraction to Johnson from the moment she saw him again at Bible study, Kathie Lee was keen on breaking her virginity and stopping her celibacy; however, things didn't go as planned on their first wedding night in Acapulco, with her stating:
“It was, like, YABBA-DABBA-DOO! I lost every inhibition... time for candles and romance, time to boogie and swing from the chandeliers. And yet we just couldn’t seem to get relaxed with each other.”
Instead, she spent the night crying her eyes out. Kathie Lee struggled to accept that she and Johnson had saved themselves for so long, expecting their first times to be "good" because they'd done all the "right" things.
BEING IN A SEXLESS MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE
Kathie Lee Gifford in a promotional photo for "Good Morning America," circa 1993. | Source: Steve Fenn/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Kathie Lee was quite disappointed by her marriage to Johnson, and she thought he felt the same way. She and her husband never settled into a comfortable sexual routine, and the marriage suffered, with the star adding:
“It was not passionate, and it was not successful, but it was polite.”
Kathie Lee Gifford poses for a portrait in 1981 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Harry Langdon/Getty Images
However, the television personality viewed marriage as a lifetime commitment, and because of that, she and Johnson stayed together for six years! She described them as living in an "illusion."
Kathie Lee cried while cleaning their Los Angeles one-bedroom ranch home. She would cook dinners decorated with candlelight, but they always ended in more tears and zero romance.
Kathie Lee Gifford as Kathie Epstein performing on the pilot for the series "Constantinople" in 1977 in Los Angeles. | Source: American Broadcasting Companies/Getty Images
The star and her husband sought help from pastors and therapists, but nothing worked. Instead, the therapy sessions were "a disaster," as their counselor believed she "was the problem" and needed to drop her career to focus on her husband's ambitions and talent.
Johnson shut those thoughts down, revealing he didn't want his wife waiting for him at home and wanted her to work. That day, the couple sat in silence as they drove for two hours back home, with no breakthrough in their marital issues.
Kathie Lee Gifford in a promotional photo for "Good Morning America" in 1983. | Source: Steve Fenn/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
According to Kathie Lee, the pair shared a bed but were never "truly intimate." They then stopped talking, and she only found joy when she could immerse herself in her work and was grateful for the distraction.
While people thought they were a hot gospel music couple, Kathie Lee later began spending her nights in their guest room. She and Johnson performed together and posed for Christian magazine covers.
Kathie Lee Gifford in a promotional photo for "Good Morning America" in 1987. | Source: Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
The television personality focused on a separate career in the late 1970s. She featured on the music quiz show "$100,000 Name That Tune," starred in the spin-ff of the original "Hee Haw" show, and was the opening act for stars like Bob Hope and Bill Cosby.
In 1981, when Kathie Lee arrived home one day after three weeks on the road, she discovered that her husband had moved out and was devastated. Johnson ended the marriage without consulting his wife.
KATIE LEE'S DESIRE FOR CHILDREN & MARRYING HER SECOND HUSBAND
Kathie Lee Johnson and Frank Gifford at the B'nai B'rith International Awards Dinner on June 24, 1986, in New York City. | Source: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
In a November 2020 People article, Kathie Lee revealed how she met her second husband, Frank Gifford. The former "Today" show host recalled how they met at 4 a.m. at "Good Morning America's" studio.
She was walking down a hallway when she looked over into a dressing room and saw someone. Kathie Lee thought that the stranger had "the best set of buns" she'd ever seen in her life!
Frank Gifford and Kathie Lee Johnson at their wedding reception on October 18, 1986, in Bridgehampton, New York. | Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
The person was leaning over a sink to put in contact lenses, and Kathie Lee, who'd had a precursor to Lasik months before, yelled at him, "'Have I got an operation for you!'" and he responded, 'Yeah, with the fool on either end.'"
The person she was speaking to was Frank, who would later become her husband, but he was 23 years older and was married to his second wife, Astrid. Kathie Lee said the meeting had been fate and described a "God wink."
Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford on the "Today" show on December 11, 2018. | Source: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Frank and Kathie Lee became friends, and she would cry on his shoulder whenever she had a breakup. At the same time, the former New York Giants player was going through a divorce from his wife.
Frank insisted she hang out with him, and soon enough, Kathie Lee realized she didn't want to spend another day without him in her life. In 2016, while on "Today," the television host shared how the NFL player proposed.
While at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, Frank surprised her by suddenly whipping out a five-carat emerald-cut ring to propose! Kathie Lee took one look at the gorgeous engagement ring and emotionally asked him if she could show it to her parents!
In her book, "It's Never Too Late," the star also revealed that she'd never longed to have children but loved them. However, she later started becoming afraid that the "window of opportunity to have healthy babies was closing."
FRANK & KATHIE LEE'S WEDDING, PLUS WELCOMING KIDS
Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford with son Cody and daughter Cassidy at the opening night of Kathie Lee's new musical "Under The Bridge" on January 6, 2005, in New York City. | Source: Evan Agostini/Getty Images
The "Monday Night Football" star and Kathie married in a small private ceremony on October 18, 1986. The event was a beach wedding held at Bridgehampton, New York.
Ironically, in August 1986, two months before the couple's marriage, the "Morning Show" co-host discussed her relationship with Entertainment Tonight (ET). She confessed how she'd ended a long-term relationship the previous spring, and Frank took her "under his wing," adding:
"We didn't fall in love. We really grew in love."
Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford at Laura Steinberg and Jonathan Tisch's wedding on April 18, 1988, in New York City. | Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
The television personality also shared how someone asked if she was bothered by the age gap, and she confessed she was; while hoping she could keep him! Kathie Lee didn't have to wait too long to have her wish of having children.
In March 1990, their son, Cody Newton Gifford, was born even though Frank was reluctant to have children because he already had three. When the couple tried to give Cody a sibling, seven weeks into her second pregnancy, Kathie Lee sadly had a miscarriage.
The pair's second child eventually came when their daughter, Cassidy Erin Gifford, was born. She also went into the entertainment industry by becoming an actress who's starred in "Time Trap," "God's Not Dead," and "The Gallows."
THE CHEATING SCANDAL
Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford at a news conference proposing legislation to crack down on sweatshops on May 30, 1996. | Source: Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images
In 1997, the Globe published photos of Frank embracing a blonde woman, Suzen Johnson. The publication had allegedly paid the former flight attendant to flirt with the former athlete and entice him into going to a room at a Manhattan hotel.
A hidden video camera captured what happened between the duo. The scandal was more impactful since the sportscaster's wife had previously boasted in her autobiography how "cheating is out of the question."
Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford during the dedication of Cassidy's Place on June 10, 1996, in New York City. | Source: Evan Agostini/Liaison/Getty Images
In 2016, Kathie Lee addressed the cheating scandal and admitted that she considered divorcing her husband. Frank asked his wife to forgive him, and she did, and they started seeing a counselor.
However, in 2021, she [Kathie Lee Gifford] was back on the [Today] show to reveal that she'd found love again...
However, she "struggled" with how he casually expected their relationship to move on as if nothing had happened. Kathie Lee's therapist then urged her to forgive him as the father of her children, and she did because she knew his heart.
LOSING FRANK GIFFORD
Frank, Cassidy, Kathie Lee, and Cody Gifford at the opening night of "Scandalous" on Broadway on November 15, 2012, in New York City. | Source: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images
The television personality lost her husband at age 84 at their Connecticut home on August 9, 2015. A few days later, Kathie Lee paid tribute to him on "Today," noting how Frank's family would "miss him so much."
She revealed how her family kept expecting to see him coming around the corner or to ask his wife what time church was. The star's late husband died wearing her favorite outfit, a white shirt, and tight black jeans!
After losing her husband, Kathie Lee struggled with feelings of crippling "loneliness." She would wake up, go to work, and then be stuck again with the feeling when she got home and decided she needed something new.
MOVING ON, NEW LOVE, & GRANDKIDS
Kathie Lee Gifford on an episode of "Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen" @ Home on September 29, 2020. | Source: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
In April 2019, Kathie Lee finally left the "Today" show after featuring on it for eleven years. However, in 2021, she was back on the show to reveal that she'd found love again with a new man in her new residence in Nashville, Tennessee.
That December, she announced that her son and his wife were expecting their first child! While with Cody, his wife, and friend Christine Gardner, Kathie Lee found out that she would be a grandmother when they got wrapped frames with an ultrasound photo!