“This was the most admired man in America for years,” Kathie Lee Gifford tells PEOPLE of Bill Cosby

By Charlotte Triggs and Ally Mauch
December 04, 2020 09:15 AM
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Kathie Lee Gifford is opening up about an experience she had with Bill Cosby, prior to his conviction and imprisonment for sexual assault.

Gifford, 67, tells PEOPLE for this week's issue that she worked with Cosby for two years and he became a “good friend” during that time. One night, however, the comedian crossed a line.

“He tried to kiss me,” she recalls. “He was not the first man during a multi-decade career that came on to me, and I'm just very grateful that I never let any of them take it any further than that.”

Gifford, who recently released a memoir, It's Never Too Late, went on to say that the disgraced comedian as he is now was not the man she came to know when they worked together. “This was the most admired man in America for years,” she says of the Cosby Show star. “He was called America's dad, remember?”

Kathie Lee Gifford and Bill Cosby in 2011
| Credit: Peter Kramer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

She continues, “And the one and only time that he did try to kiss me, I said, ‘No. Bill, you're my friend.’ He goes, ‘You're right. Good night.’ So I found those accusations against him very painful, because that's not the man I knew.”

Cosby, 83, was sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison by a Pennsylvania judge in September 2018 — five months after he was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting a former Temple University employee in his mansion in 2004.

Kathie Lee Gifford
| Credit: Brian Doben

• For more about Kathie Lee Gifford's latest book and her revealing memories, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up next week's issue, on newsstands now.

“I never saw anybody personally being treated that way by him in two years, traveling all over the country, staying in the same house with him whenever we went to Harris, or in Reno,” Gifford says. “We had great fun together, and I never thought a thing of it ever. He would make me cappuccinos, he'd make the girls cappuccinos, he would pour me a glass of wine on occasion, and I would read the stories about how he would put drugs in other women's drinks and it was just foreign to me.”

“I didn't doubt the women's stories,” she adds of his accusers. “I don't know why he behaved the way he did with the other women, that's their story to tell.”

Kathie Lee Gifford's new book 'It's Never Too Late'
| Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Gifford says that the chapter in her memoir that details the “unusual encounter” with Cosby is about “how you think you know somebody.”

She shares in the book that while she was “surprised” by his attempted kiss, she “didn’t feel panicked.”

“I was as surprised as the rest of the world when, years later, Bill Cosby, at one time the most respected and admired man in America, was accused of all manner of despicable acts with a myriad of women,” Gifford writes.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.