Kathie Lee Gifford has shared very little about her first marriage, to composer Paul Johnson from 1976 to 1983, and admits as much in her new book, "It's Never Too Late," released Tuesday.
But that may be because, as she reveals in her new memoir, she didn't have much of a relationship with Johnson, who came before her marriage to famed footballer Frank Gifford.
"The truth is, it was only a marriage in the pages of the law," Gifford writes about Johnson in her book. "Though Paul and I were married, we shared only one thing — our faith."
Kathie Lee Gifford talks about her new book ‘It’s Never Too Late’Dec. 1, 202005:34
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They met in 1973 when she was a student at Oral Roberts University and Johnson was a friend of the university founder's son. Gifford moved to Los Angeles a year later and attended a Bible study at Johnson's home.
"I was a virgin on my wedding night with Paul, and still considered myself one when he left me five years later," she recalled. "It’s hard even now to explain why I stayed so long in a sexless marriage. I certainly would never do it again. But back then divorce had much more of a stigma, and no one in my family was divorced. I believed that God could heal our marriage and prayed every day that He would."
Gifford added that she moved into their guest room within a year of their wedding and stayed there until the marriage was over.
"Before we married, Paul told me that he was a virgin too," she continued. "We talked about how we wanted to honor God’s Word and present ourselves as a gift to the person we would eventually marry. But after we were married he wanted nothing to do with me. Nothing."
Gifford said she and Johnson attended counseling, but it was "a disaster." The counselor believed that Gifford "was the problem," she wrote, and that she should "give up" her career "to attend to Paul’s ambition and talent and keep his home neat and organized."
"Paul immediately responded, 'No way! I don’t want her waiting around at home for me. I want her to work,'" Gifford wrote. "We sat in silence during the two-hour road trip home, no closer to any sort of breakthrough in our marital issues."
"Though we had shared the same bed, we had never been truly intimate, and now we’d stopped talking too," she said. "The only time I was joyful was when I could escape the despair of my marriage and lose myself in my work. I was grateful to have something to distract me."
Johnson eventually ended the marriage, according to Gifford, without consulting her. She'd been on the road for three weeks, and when she returned home, she saw their house was "completely trashed."
"My first thought was, Oh my God, we’ve been robbed! Then I noticed that the piano was missing, and it dawned on me, No, he’s left me," she wrote. "I had had no warning. There had been no discussion of a separation. Nothing."
"In the kitchen I found a short note on the counter that said, 'Maybe now you’ll know that I mean it,' with a phone number in case of emergency. To this day I have no idea what he meant. Nothing in my young life had prepared me for such a shock," Gifford recalled.
Kathie Lee Gifford talks about her kids’ weddings, new book, new movieOct. 12, 202006:31
She went on to explain that the process of cleaning the house after the wreckage was highly therapeutic for her, and shortly after, she had her first temporary hosting gig on the No. 1 morning show in Los Angeles, which eventually changed her life.
Gifford also recalled seeing Johnson only once after their relationship ended, in 2011.
"He never said a word about why he left me the way he did or why he married me in the first place, and I didn’t ask," she wrote. "I hugged him good night and wished him a happy life. I still do."
She later learned that Johnson became a marriage and relationship counselor after they split.
"You’ve got to love God’s sense of humor," Gifford quipped.
Gifford married a second time in 1986, to Frank Gifford; they stayed married until his death in 2015 at age 84. They had two children together, son Cody, 30, and daughter Cassidy, 27.