Frank Gifford, one of the most popular sportscasters in TV history and the husband of Today cohost Kathie Lee Gifford, died of natural causes today, his family confirmed, just a week shy of his 85th birthday.
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford,” the family statement said. “Frank died suddenly this beautiful Sunday morning of natural causes at his Connecticut home. We rejoice in the extraordinary life he was privileged to live, and we feel grateful and blessed to have been loved by such an amazing human being. We ask that our privacy be respected at this difficult time and we thank you for your prayers.”
With Howard Cosell and Don Meredith, NFL hall of famer Gifford was part of an unbeatable triumvirate of commentators presiding over ABC’s Monday Night Football in the 1970s. Playing the amiable jock next to Cosell’s abrasive know-it-all and Meredith’s down-home good ol’ boy, Gifford became as famous as any of the athletes on the field.
“Frank Gifford was an exceptional man who will be missed by everyone who had the joy of seeing his talent on the field, the pleasure of watching his broadcasts, or the honor of knowing him,” Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statementy released by the ABC owner. “His many achievements were defined by a quiet dignity and a personal grace that is seldom seen in any arena; he truly embodied the very best of us. Frank’s contributions to ABC Sports and our company are immeasurable. We are honored to call him a Disney Legend and I am very fortunate to have called him a dear friend and colleague. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
In addition to Monday Night Football — a cultural juggernaut throughout the ’70s that far exceeded its sports-fan base — covered the Olympics, appeared as a guest host on Good Morning America and even made appearances on sitcoms like Coach and The San Pedro Beach Bums.
Although a tabloid scandal contributed to his leaving Monday Night Football in 1998, Gifford’s 1986 marriage to the former Kathie Lee Epstein (whom he’d met on the set of Good Morning America) survived. They have two kids, Cody and Cassidy. Gifford has three children — Jeff, Kyle and Victoria — from a previous marriage.
Prior to his broadcast career, Gifford played football at USC, where he was named All-American and graduated in 1952. He went on to play with the New York Giants where he was named MVP in 1956 after leading the giants to the NFL Championship over the Chicago Bears.