Kathie Lee Gifford Reflects on Late Husband Frank's Devastating Affair (Exclusive)

Kathie Lee Gifford is opening up about how she dealt with an incredibly painful experience in her life -- her late husband's infidelity.

Sitting down with ET's Rachel Smith to discuss her new book, I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste, the 70-year-old former Today anchor shares that after news of Frank Gifford's affair broke, she struggled with the concept of forgiveness.

Kathie Lee says that while it may have been difficult to overcome, it came down for her to a few different things, including the love of their two children -- Cassidy and Cody -- and the idea that letting her resentment fester would have an outcome that would be ubiquitous.

"I could have let the seed germinate but I don't want to be that person, that bitter, angry, unhappy, miserable human being 'cause you know what you end up doing? You end up making everybody around you every bit as miserable," she shares. "I have always felt from my earliest youth that I had the choice every day of my life to be a blessing or a burden and I want to be a blessing."

Kathie Lee Gifford, Frank Gifford and their two children, Cody and Cassidy

Kathie Lee Gifford, Frank Gifford and their two children, Cody and Cassidy

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To this day, Kathie Lee says that she views everything "as a choice," including love, forgiveness and giving up on a marriage -- which she says they refused to do following Frank's 1997 affair with Suzen Johnson, a former flight attendant.

Kathie Lee says that the months and years after the incident broke -- when Cassidy was just 4 years old and Cody was 7 -- was "very painful" for her but that thankfully she had learned to "practice forgiveness" before marrying Frank.

Prior to their 1986 wedding, Kathie Lee was married to Christian composer Paul Johnson. The pair wed in 1976 but split in 1982 due to irreconcilable differences which she detailed in her 2020 memoir. She tells ET she learned many lessons from their failed marriage, including the importance of absolution in the face of turmoil.

"I'd been married before to a man who betrayed me deeply and I forgave him right away.  You don't hold on, don't wait to forgive… you're only hurting yourself," Kathie Lee says.

She adds, "Immediately forgive because love cannot live where hate does."

Frank Gifford and Kathie Lee Gifford

Frank Gifford and Kathie Lee Gifford

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The former Live with Regis and Kathie Lee host shares that these days, she finds peace in knowing that while it may have been a rocky road at the time, her story of letting Frank back in has helped so many others over the years. Kathie Lee tells ET that people still come up to her on the street and tell her that they worked through marriage difficulties of their own thanks to her own experience.

While there's certainly an element of providing the person in the wrong with clemency, to her, it feeds the soul to purge the negativity and not dwell on situations in the past. The mom of two says it only creates a "toxic" environment for one to live in when resentment persists.

"It's a cancer in your soul and I don't want that. I don't want it for me, I don't want it for anyone I love. I want people to be blessed and we all make our choices," Kathie Lee shares.

She adds, "We all make our choices -- he [Frank] made a different one than I did and we all live with them. But I can live with the choices I have made if I have truly experienced a deep and abiding forgiveness of that person."

Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford

Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford

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Back in 2020, while promoting her book, It's Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life, she touched on recounting Frank's affair just years after her husband's death. She shared with ET that she "didn't want to" revisit the excruciating chapter of their history but felt it was important to living her most authentic life.

"It's not a bed of roses. I mean, we struggled after that for a long time. He knew that I would never again be exactly the same as I was before I knew the truth of what he had done," she said.

She added, "I knew my children would be very, very different people if we had broken up at that time."

Frank, Kathie Lee, Cody and Cassidy Gifford

Frank, Kathie Lee, Cody and Cassidy Gifford

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Kathie Lee also spoke with ET in 2000 about her decision to stay in her marriage following Frank's extramarital affairs, sharing that in spite of her anger and heartbreak, she found comfort in her Christian ideals and the thought of keeping their family together.

"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," Kathie Lee said.

She added at the time, "A very dear friend told me when I was going through the hardest time about it, he said, 'If you can't forgive your husband, forgive your children's father.' Too many families break up over something that could be healed if they just stay there and trust God to do a healing in their life."

"People always say to me, 'Do you have a statement?' I say, 'You know what? We are our statement,'" Kathie Lee said at the time.

Regis Philbin, wife Joy Philbin, Kathy Lee Gifford and Frank Gifford attend Irish Chamber of Commerce Gala Honoring Regis Philbin and Kathy Lee Gifford on October 10, 1990 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.

Regis Philbin, Joy Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford and Frank Gifford

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In her new interview with ET, Kathie Lee also addresses her former co-host, Hoda Kotb, recently pushing for her to be the first-ever Golden Bachelorette. Sadly, despite having a "great" conversation with the producers, she says it would probably never work for her.

Kathie Lee says she is "too well known" and is weirded out by the idea of entertaining bachelors who know her but that she doesn't know back. She's also skeptical of the concept entirely -- a prerogative likely exacerbated by the recent split of Golden BachelorGerry Turner and his final choice, Theresa Nist.

"I don't believe that in a matter of weeks [I would] fall madly in love with somebody. For me, it would never work that way," she says.

Furthermore, she tells ET that for her to even consider an opportunity like The Golden Bachelorette -- which has yet to announce who will hold the titular role for its pilot season -- a lot would have to change.

"I said, 'If you guys want to do a completely different kind of show which is basically a sitcom then I'll make fun of myself but I'm not getting in the hot tub with anyone,'" she jokes.

I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste hits shelves on April 30.


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