Former NFL star and longtime sportscaster Frank Gifford, who enjoyed a successful transition from the playing field to the broadcast booth, died Sunday of natural causes in his Connecticut home, his family said.
Gifford, who was married to talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford, was 84.
“It is with the deepest sadness that we announce the sudden passing of our beloved husband, father and friend, Frank Gifford,” the Gifford family said in a statement.
“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.”
By the time Gifford joined the New York Giants as their number one draft pick in 1952, he already had established his gridiron bona fides in high school and college — despite his father’s wishes.
Gifford was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1930 to Weldon and Lola Mae Gifford. His father was an oil worker, and the family traveled the country for his job before settling in Bakersfield, where Gifford attended high school.
“My dad tried to get me to quit playing football in high school. I hurt my ankle and, of course, everyone in my family had always gone right into the oil fields, and there was a concern that I was really going to be hurt, on his part,” Gifford told CNN’s Larry King in 1993.
At the University of Southern California, Gifford played offense and defense and won All-America honors as a senior before he was drafted into the NFL.
As the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1956 he brought the Giants to a league championship. When a head injury from a game against the Philadelphia Eagles put him on the sidelines in 1961, many believed his reign had ended over. Then he returned in 1962 and switched from halfback to flanker to take advantage of his great pass-catching skills and regained star status once again, according to his Pro Football Hall of Fame profile.
He retired from professional football in 1964.
Gifford was one of the first American sports stars to shift into television sportscasting. He became part of ABC’s “Monday Night Football” lineup in 1971, joining fellow NFL veteran Don Meredith and broadcaster Howard Cosell.
He was inducted into into College Football Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
In 1986, he made headlines for marrying Kathie Lee Epstein Johnson, who was 23 years younger.