FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Kathie Lee Gifford watched her football star husband, Frank Gifford, die in 2015 in the same Connecticut house their adult children moved out of a few years prior.
“That huge beautiful memory-filled home was like a morgue to me,” said Gifford, whose mom died two years ago.
So she bought a house in Tennessee.
“I moved here because I was dying of loneliness,” the longtime TV talk show host – who left NBC’s Today show in April – said in a 90-minute interview in her opulent brownstone near the Franklin town square.
“Here’s the bad news — I’m a widow, an orphan, and an empty-nester. The good news is, I have the freedom of a widow, an orphan and an empty-nester. I’ve got all the time to spend my days writing. I’m having the life I could’ve only ever dreamed of.”
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Since buying a home here, Gifford has connected with songwriters, producers, Christian and country artists and others, unleashing a manic pursuit of creativity.
Among her recent projects:
♦ Four songs she co-wrote and recorded, spiritual tunes around losing her husband, including “He Saw Jesus” and “Love Me to Death;”
♦ A romantic comedy, “Love Me to Death,” that she wrote, produced and co-starred in with comedian Craig Ferguson;
♦ A new children’s book, “The Gift I Can Give”;
♦ Two Hallmark Channel movies;
♦ Songwriting with some of Nashville’s biggest songwriters, including Brett James, Kelley Lovelace and Stephanie Bentley; and
♦ Creating oratorios — large-scale religious narrative-music productions like Handel’s Messiah — with Christian artist Nicole C. Mullen and others.
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Mullen and Gifford debuted an oratorio Sunday night as part of the Nashville Pop Orchestra’s 1,000 Voices of Christmas concert. The night before, Gifford hosted a $350-a-person fundraiser gala at the Musicians Hall of Fame. (Proceeds will go to the pop orchestra’s student scholarship program.)
Gifford said she is thrilled to get back to fulfilling her childhood dreams. She grew up wanting to be Barbra Streisand or Meryl Streep, and now, Gifford is making movies and writing songs.
But don’t look for Gifford to get back into being a recording artist. (Gifford recorded 16 albums through her career.)
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Gifford stopped singing professionally 15 years ago when scar tissue on her lungs from double pneumonia took away about 25% of her ability to breathe.
Songwriter James convinced her to record a few songs recently, but Gifford said she won’t be releasing full albums or touring.
“No. No. No,” she said, swirling her eponymous chardonnay in a chilled wine glass.
“I’ve done that for 40 years. No more concerts. I don’t have the breath control. I’ve really moved on.”
Creating the music has been invigorating for Gifford, who realized quickly that Nashville songwriters like to collaborate through, well, conversation.
“They sit around and talk and yaw and chaw and, you know, scratch and chew,” Gifford said, laughing. “And an hour’s gone by and I’m going, ‘Have we written something?’”
Still, Gifford has embraced the process and loves to host songwriters at her house.
“They come over here and I’ve got mounds and mounds of lyrics. I write every single day. I let them go through them and see what moves them and touches them. If there’s nothing, we write from scratch, even though that’s been hard for me,” she said.
The songwriters love it too.
“I give them a beautiful lunch and I let them go to the wine cellar and get something for their spouses.”
Gifford seems to have a particular fervor for her oratorios, making Bible stories come to life. But she loves it all.
“I had these these childhood dreams that I never had time to make it happen. Now I do,” Gifford said.
“These are just gifts from God. I’m just trying to keep them growing.”
Nashville is a great spot to do that, she told the Today show on a return visit this week.
“It’s a culture of kindness in Nashville. They’re authentically kind… and joyful!”