Phyllis George was the first female co-anchor on the CBS sports program The NFL Today

By Eric Todisco
May 17, 2020 11:00 AM
Phyllis George
Credit: Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

Phyllis George, who was crowned Miss America in 1971 and later became the first female co-anchor on The NFL Today, has died at 70.

The cause of death was polycythemia vera, a rare blood cancer that George was diagnosed with 35 years ago, her family told the New York Times and CNN.

George, who grew up in Texas and attended North Texas State University, achieved national fame when she became the 50th Miss America in 1971. "It was the springboard to everything I’ve done in my life," she said of her Miss America title in a 2007 Texas Monthly interview.

George was recruited by Robert Wussler, the president of CBS Sports, for a sportscasting job. In 1975, she joined The NFL Today as the program's first female co-anchor, working alongside Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder.

While George became the most prominent woman in sportscasting, she still had to defend herself from critics who doubted her knowledge of sports.

“I knew more about sports than some people gave me credit for when I started,” she told PEOPLE in 1976. "I’m from Texas, and down there you follow the Texas Longhorns and the Dallas Cowboys or you don’t belong. So, when I pick up the morning paper, the sports pages come first and the fashion pages come last."

Phyllis George
Credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

George's daughter, Pamela Brown, who is CNN's senior White House correspondent, told the outlet that her mother "paved the way for other women to become sportscasters."

"Mom lived her life to a high standard and set a high standard for everyone else," said George's son, Lincoln Brown. "What will forever stay with us are the defining qualities the public never saw, especially against the winds of adversity, that symbolize how extraordinary she is more than anything else. The beauty so many recognized on the outside was a mere fraction of her internal beauty and unwavering spirit."

George covered many sporting events with The NFL Today, including the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, the Super Bowl and the Rose Bowl. She remained with the program for three seasons before being replaced during the 1978 season by Jayne Kennedy, another former beauty queen.

George was married twice: first to Hollywood producer Robert Evans from 1977 to 1978, and then to John Y. Brown Jr., the owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken and former Governor of Kentucky, from 1979 to 1998. Both marriages ended in divorce.

While married to Brown, George served as Kentucky's First Lady from 1979 to 1983. She also briefly became the co-anchor of CBS Morning News and founded Chicken by George, which she sold to Hormel Foods in 1988.

After the couple divorced, George went on to establish a beauty line that was marketed on HSN and published an inspirational book Never Say Never.

Pamela and Lincoln told CNN that their mother lived long beyond her initial diagnosis. "It's a testament to her unwavering spirit and determination she made it this long, 10 years longer than any doctor ever thought possible," they said.