Frank Gifford, the former New York Giants star who successfully transitioned to a long career as a sportscaster on TV and radio, died Sunday of natural causes at his home in Connecticut. He was 84.
NBC News confirmed Gifford’s death in a statement. Gifford was the husband of “Today” anchor Kathie Lee Gifford.
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford. 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.”
Gifford’s name was practically synonymous with ESPN’s popular “Monday Night Football” telecast, for which he served up commentary from the early ’70s on. His first-hand experience on the field as a halfback and his measured, congenial analyses, made him a popular figure on the long-running, high-rated program. In later years Gifford became a constant source of latenight talkshow host ribbing as the result of a tabloid-friendly report of an extramarital dalliance.
Gifford was the husband of former morning talkshow personality Kathie Lee Gifford.
Gifford joined Howard Cossell and Don Meredith on “Monday Night Football” in 1971 and remained with the show through several transitions, winning an Emmy for his commentaries. He was enormously popular with audiences for his easy-going analyses and obvious love of the game.
The network also utilized him on “Wide World of Sports,” where he became closely associated with the Special Olympics. He became a champion of the games as well as of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
While playing in the NFL, Gifford spent the offseason during the 1950s appearing in small roles in feature films such as “That’s My Boy,” “The All American” (1953), “Darby’s Rangers” and “Up Periscope” (1959), taking acting classes along the way with, among others, Jeff Corey. He also worked as a commercial model and product endorser on television, in addition to writing a sports column and hosting a sports show on a local Bakersfield, Calif., station and for CBS Radio. In 1961, he became a sports reporter for WCBS in New York.
He maintained his sports reporting position at WCBS during an NFL comeback and later worked a color commentator for CBS Sports, doing NFL games as well as golf and college basketball. In 1971, Gifford moved to ABC and began his run on “Monday Night Football” that lasted until 1997.
Gifford appeared as himself in the film “Jerry Maguire” and on the ABC sitcoms “Coach” and “Spin City.”
Francis Newton Gifford was born in Santa Monica, Calif., and his family moved around a great deal during the Great Depression until they finally settled in Bakersfield. It was at Bakersfield High School that Gifford first began to develop his abilities as a football player, which led to a sports scholarship to USC. Coach Jess Hill helped bring out Gifford’s offensive and defensive skills, and he was named by Collier’s magazine running back of its All-America team in his senior year. Gifford departed USC 12 units shy of a degree when the New York Giants picked him as their No. 1 draft choice in 1952. He later made up the credits in night school, receiving his degree in 1956.
His first two seasons with the Giants were arduous, and the pay was terrible, Gifford recalled. He was almost ready to pack it in when, in 1954, the Giants’ new head coach, Jim Lee Howell, and offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi came aboard. It was Lombardi who installed him as a permanent left halfback. In 1955 the Giants took the NFL championship, and Gifford was voted the league’s MVP. The Giants won several championships through the end of the decade, when Gifford suffered a serious concussion and announced his retirement.
In 1962, he returned to the field as a flanker and made a celebrated comeback. By the time he permanently retired in 1964, Gifford had amassed several Giants records, including touchdowns scored, points and yards gained receiving. He made All-Pro a total of eight times.
Gifford’s autobiography, “The Whole Ten Yards,” was published in 1993, and he wrote several other sports-related books, including “Gifford on Courage” in 1976 and “The Glory Game: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever” in 2008.
He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
In the 2000s he guested a few times on “Jimmy Kimmel” and “Today,” showed up on “Regis and Kelly” in 2009, appeared in documentaries including “Beatles Stories” and “Lombardi” and recurred as an interviewee on “ESPN SportsCentury.”
Gifford was married three times. In 1982, he met Kathie Lee Johnson during a brief fill-in stint on “Good Morning America.” They were married in 1986. When Kathie Lee Gifford became a household name via the “Regis and Kathie Lee” show, she frequently discussed her family life on television. In the mid-’90s, when a tabloid report of an extramarital dalliance was revealed, the couple became a frequent butt of jokes, though they remained together through it all.
Kathie Lee tweeted about her husband’s death on Sunday, thanking fans for the well wishes.
“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,” Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said in a statement. “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 third wife Kathie Lee, survivors include their son and daughter and two sons and a daughter from Gifford’s first marriage.