This time last year, Kathie Lee Gifford had just heard the news that her longtime friend, Billy Graham, had gone home to be with the Lord.
The tears would come, but her initial reaction was to praise God.
“I just immediately put up my hands and said, ‘Thank You. Thank You,’” she shared on the Today show hours after Mr. Graham passed away.
Then she honored the “Evangelist to the World” in the one way he would have desired most: she preached the Gospel.
“Everybody that dies in Christ goes immediately into the arms of Christ for eternity,” she shared with a live studio audience—and millions of others watching live on TV or online in the following weeks and months.
“That is the hope of the Christian faith—yes, it gives us the tools we need to live in the world today while we’re alive—but that’s why I could hold my dead husband in my arms and rejoice. Because I knew where he was.”
Gifford didn’t stop there. In her tribute to Mr. Graham—who was known for boldly preaching the Gospel around the world—she went on to explain why she, too, is bold in sharing her faith.
“If you had the cure for cancer, would you keep it quiet, or would you hold it and keep it a secret?” she asked. “I have the cure for the malignancy of the soul, and He has a name, and it’s Jesus.
“Use this opportunity to look into your own heart—every one of us should—and say, ‘Do I have a malignancy of my soul? Where’s the doctor?’ Well, the Good News is the doctor is in, and He conquered death for all time for every one of us. And it’s free—probably the only thing in this whole world we live in that’s completely free.”
‘Nobody Ever Will Be Like Billy’
One year later, Gifford took time to speak with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association about her friendship with Billy Graham and his ongoing legacy for Christ.
“Nobody ever will be like Billy,” she said. “God just ordained that he would be that man—His man—to proclaim the Gospel, and I doubt any other human being will ever reach as many people personally.”
God used Mr. Graham to reach not only Gifford but also her closest family members in a personal way. When she was a girl, she came home one night to find her mother and sister crying in front of the television after watching a Billy Graham Crusade.
“I walked in thinking they were reacting to bad news on the television, but it was the opposite of that,” she said. “They were reacting to the Good News on the TV. The Good News that God loved my mother and sister. They were just rejoicing in their newfound faith in Jesus.
“Every member of my family … was impacted by [Billy Graham’s] ministry.”
‘The God of How and When’
Gifford, who recently joked about being in the television business “for 120 years,” announced last year that she plans to leave the Today show in April to pursue other projects including singing, writing, acting and producing.
“Since the time I came out of the womb, all I wanted to do was make movies and sing,” she said.
That’s why it’s so fitting that God got her attention in a movie theater.
Gifford accepted Christ when she was 12 years old after watching The Restless Ones, a faith-based film produced by Billy Graham’s movie ministry World Wide Pictures.
“I am absolutely convinced through a lifetime of faith—and stumbling more than walking with the Lord—that everything is purposeful,” Gifford said.
“Nothing is random; nothing is coincidence. God is the God of how and when.
“For the Lord to meet me personally in a movie theater and become real to me is just absolutely the sovereignty of God.”
‘There’s No Question in My Mind’
When Gifford saw The Restless Ones in 1965, using movies to reach people with the Gospel message was a radical idea.
Gifford is among those who believe the Lord can still use the late evangelist to reach people with the hope of Christ.
“There’s no question in my mind that Billy Graham’s sermons today are as powerful as they were when he was first delivering them,” she said. “And I’ll tell you why: because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. It was always about Jesus: Jesus born, crucified, risen and coming again.
“He never changed it. He didn’t use fancy words people couldn’t understand. He didn’t want people running for their dictionaries; he wanted people sitting there mesmerized by this simple, transforming truth. His message never changed—whether he delivered it in the 1950s or now as he’s gone on to heaven.”
‘I Still Cannot Talk About Him Without Crying’
When Gifford was hosting Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee in the 80s and 90s, Billy Graham became more than someone she admired from a distance; he became a friend.
Over the years, the Grahams and the Giffords got to know one another. On one occasion, Mr. Graham read the Christmas story to Frank and Kathie’s young children in their living room. He also revealed his love of Big Macs, much to their family’s amusement.
When the Giffords faced some of their darkest moments in an excruciatingly public way, his friendship never faltered.
“It’s very hard to find a kind word, especially in New York City,” Gifford said. “And the very first phone call would be from Billy. Every time. And he would say, ‘Kathie, how are you, my friend? How can I pray for you?’
“He said, ‘Can I speak to Frank?’ and he got on the phone with Frank and was as gentle and tenderhearted with Frank as he was with me.”
Gifford’s bright, steady voice quivers when she remembers how her friend exemplified the love of Jesus in those difficult moments.
“I still cannot talk about him without crying,” she said. “There was just a purity about the man. And his walk with Jesus was so real. And his love not just for his Lord, but for people.
“There’ll never be another Billy. God will raise up great servants, but there is a special place at the foot of the Savior in heaven for Billy Graham.”
Kathie Lee’s joy and peace comes from knowing Christ.
Find out more about who He is and how much He loves you.