As co-host of the Emmy-nominated talk show Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Kathy Lee Gifford spent 15 years entertaining American viewers alongside Regis Philbin. After an eight-year hiatus from television, she's back on the air, holding down the fourth hour of NBC's Today show with co-host Hoda Kotb. She also produces musicals, writes screenplays and has just released a new memoir, Just When I Thought I'd Dropped My Last Egg. Gifford talked to TIME about her new book, her life in the spotlight and why she doesn't lie about her age. (Read "Should Women Lie About Their Age?")
TIME: Tell me about the title of your book.
Gifford: Well, it's funny, because a young kid named Daniel interviewed me a couple of days ago. "Explain the title of this to me," he said. I said, "Daniel, forgive me, but I'm assuming you're a man. Is that correct?" He said yes. I said, "Tell me how old you are." He goes, "Twenty-three." I said, "You're not exactly my target audience." It's all about a woman's reproductive cycle and how we become fertile in terms of bearing children at a young age and then at a certain point in life we are no longer fertile in that sense. I think women can be at their most creative, their most dynamic, when their biological fertility cycle is over. So that's basically what that's all about. Just when I thought it's all over for me, I find myself in the most exciting, creative time of my entire life. (See the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2008.)
That's great. Now, you're very honest about being 55 years old.
Many people in show business are not honest about their ages. Why did you
decide to go that route?
Because I was an idiot. Years ago I told the truth about my age, and it stuck with me. I think honesty is always better. People can look you up in your yearbook. They can Google you. What's the point of lying about it anyway? That just makes people look foolish. It's one thing to not tell certain things about yourself. I think that's totally fine. Don't lie about stuff. You're too easily found out these days.
You talk about plastic surgery. How do you feel about that? You
write about that in the book.
I think it's a perfectly fine option for people who choose it. I really do. The people who have it over and over and over again, that's something different. That's on a much deeper level than saying, You know what? I've never liked my nose. I think I'm going to fix it. Or, My boobs are down to my waist. I think I'll get them nice and perky again.
My editor will fire me if I don't ask you whether you've done that.
Have you had any plastic surgery?
I took a good look at the age of 54, and as much as I thought I could use a face-lift, I said my feet need it so much more than my face. Because there's stuff you can do with your face. But when you have bunions the size of Rhode Island and Delaware, you need to get surgery on them.
That's the next thing I was going to ask you about. You are very hard on
yourself. You call your feet hooves. You call your breasts flop bags. Don't
you think you're being too hard on yourself?
No. I'm having fun. I think it's so much better to laugh about things than to pretend that it isn't happening. I am painfully aware of what's going on with my body. There's so much going on that's good in my life that it's the price you pay. There's another story in the book, when my mom goes and tries on bathing suits and she gets discouraged because these two little teenage girls are waltzing around in their bikinis next to her. And this very sweet lady helping her with her bathing suit sees that my mother is discouraged, and she takes her by the hand and says, "Oh, honey, don't worry about it. We had our turn." It made my mom feel so much better.
That is an interesting story.
Yes, it might make you feel better for a second. But the truth is, you'd trade places with those kids in a second if you could. But at the same time, it's when we become so focused on stuff like that that we're obnoxious to be around. Nobody wants to be around a Debbie Whiner and all she can do is talk about the fact that she just turned 50. You know what? She's blessed she just turned 50. I've got friends who never made 50.
You chose not to write about the tabloid scandal a few years ago about your husband's infidelity. How come you didn't use your book as a vehicle for
writing more about that?
Well, I explain that in the book. Out of love and affection for my husband, at this point. Any time you keep picking at a scab, it cannot heal. I've said everything I wanted to say, and so has my husband. People say, "Well, do you have a statement?" I say no. We're concentrating on being a statement. We put our family first, and I think you're never ever sorry when you do that. (Read about Kathie Lee's husband, Frank Gifford.)
How do you feel about the tabloids generally? Aside from that,
you've had a real life in the tabloids. Do you feel like that's just the
cost of doing business?
I think it is to some extent. Try to think of anybody ever in television before Regis and myself who talked about their lives for a living. It was brand-new. Nobody had ever, ever done it before on a national level. I went through my pregnancies on television, the birth of my children, my courtship and marrying Frank was all on television. It was I Love Lucy but not scripted.
Do you see Regis regularly?
Yes. We just had dinner last week. We see each other as often as we used to socially. The difference is that I don't see him every day now on a TV set. I adore Regis and always will, and I'm so grateful for the 15 years we had together. I wouldn't have missed a day of it, but was very ready to go when it came time.
Tell me about the Today show. How is that going?
That is going surprisingly well. I was kicking and screaming going back to TV. It was not something I was interested in at all. They talked me into it, and I'm glad they did, now looking back on it. By the time [co-host Kotb] and I sit in those stools, people have had three hours of pretty tough news to have to digest, and we're the alternative programming. TIME magazine called it the happy hour. And that's really what we try to be. We're an antidote to all the bad news that's out there in the world today. We want that hour to be one that is an escape for people a little bit.