When one speaks to a talk show host who is known for being friendly and engaging, what was supposed to be an interview quickly turns into a delightful conversation. That is exactly what happened with the lovely, compassionate and accomplished Leeza Gibbons.
Gibbons comes from Hartsville, South Carolina and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of South Carolina’s school of journalism and mass communication. She began working as a journalist and joined the team of Entertainment Tonight in 1984 and she remained correspondent and co-host until 2000. At about the same time from 1993 to 2000, she hosted her own talk show Leeza on NBC. Her 2013 book Take 2 was a New York Times bestseller and she earned an Emmy for My Generation. In February 2015, she was the winner of Celebrity Apprentice and raised $714,000 for her charity Leeza’s Care Connection.
She continues to work in television, radio, entrepreneurial actions and other areas of interest. Charitable pursuits are important to Gibbons. In fact, the mom of three has received the Congressional Horizon Award for her work on children’s issues.
While she is involved in many charitable endeavors, she has a soft spot for topics related to seniors, especially memory issues. In 2009 she published Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss, her personal story of her family’s personal struggle with Alzheimer’s disease after her mother’s diagnosis and eventual passing from the disease in 2008. Her dad, Carlos had some recent health issues and she and her siblings took turns helping with his care taking needs. She has partnered with Senior Helpers to help and educate people on new ways to care for aged parents.
Leeza Gibbons spoke with TheCelebrityCafe.com about her life, work, her thoughts on current entertainment journalism, the must-have item in her makeup bag, offers tips on how people can take care of themselves while taking care of loved ones, why Senior Helpers is important, what she likes to do for fun, how she succeeded on The Celebrity Apprentice, what’s next for her and more.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: Thank you so much. How are you doing today?
Leeza Gibbons: I’m fantastic. How are you?
TCC: Very well. Thank you. I’m so happy to be talking to you. What are you up to these days?
LG: Oh, my goodness. I’m up to my real passion project, which is one of those unexpected turns. You know they always say, it’s not the end of the road; it’s the bend in the road that kind of takes you down the most interesting, gives you the most interesting vistas. That’s really been true for me. When my mother had Alzheimer’s disease I took a look at the things that were no longer working in my life because it just didn’t make sense, it brought me to some really unexpected and very fulfilling places that I would have never imagined. That’s been, I think the most surprising part of my life’s journey so far.
TCC: Where did this journey begin? Where did you grow up?
LG: I grew up in South Carolina in a small town called Irmo. It was really one of those idyllic upbringings. You know, the kind of place where you rode your bike, hung out with your friends and your mom would holler out the back door when it was time to come in for dinner. That kind of place. So, that’s where all my dreams were hatched and where I really first became interested in storytelling.
We had a talent show at school, I was very upset because I had no talent — I can’t whistle, I can’t jump rope. I have no talent. And my mother said, you know, “Don’t worry about it honey.” I was crying over this and she goes, “You do have a talent,” — She completely made it up, she goes “you’re a storyteller.” I’m like “what?” She goes “you’re a storyteller. Go back to school and stand up in front of the class and say I’m using my talents to tell stories.”
And I totally bought it. I was like 11 or 12 years old at the time. And that’s really when I first became a journalist. That’s why I went to broadcast journalism school and that’s why I became a reporter. And it’s been such a magnificent journey. I just never expected that the most important story I would tell is the story of my family’s journey with her disease, my grandmother’s disease and with my dad’s heart attack and our journey with caregiving with him. And that I would ultimately run a non-profit dedicated to help and tell other people’s stories of thriving and surviving through caregiving.
TCC: Can you tell me a little bit about your journey, please?
LG: We created what we wished we had in the world when my mom got sick. Even though we watched my mother take care of her mother, my granny, we still felt frustrated and alone and isolated and misunderstood and depleted and depressed and all those things that people feel. So we created an organization really to care for the family caregiver.And along the way, I’ve learned so much about how to really help family caregivers cope and how to provide resources.
Recently I’ve formed a partnership with Senior Helpers. They’re one of the largest providers of in-home care and I realize that the one thing I’ve learned from our communities is the way that we become strong is really when we learn to ask for help. And when my dad had a heart attack, we asked for help and hired someone from Senior Helpers to become part of our care team and help my dad recover. So we have my brother, my sister, and me. They live nearby. I live in LA, they’re in South Carolina, and then we hired a care companion from Senior Helpers to come in and help daddy with his rehabilitation, help him stay on his medications properly, help him communicate with the doctors and run errands, help him communicate with us and make sure that he was getting his healthy meals, and just that everything was going well.
It was such an advantage for him ultimately becoming strong. And, now, almost a year later, he is still in a great friendship with her, but also still working with her for his rehabilitation and running errands. So I’m always telling families to explore the resources that are out there for you.
There are a lot of people that just need a peace of mind visit. They may live a distance away from mom or dad and maybe they just need somebody to check in once or twice a week or maybe once a month to say, “Is there food in the refrigerator. Are mom or dad do they seem like the mail is piling up?”
Or maybe they need somebody 24/7 to take care of what they believe is someone with a cognitive issue. The thing that really attracted me with Senior Helpers is they’re the experts with cognitive issues, with Alzheimer’s and dementia. And we know that so many seniors, it’s like one in three, are dealing with memory loss, Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, so if you’re bringing someone in to help you and really help educate the family and care for your loved one, you want somebody that actually speaks that language, that has that expertise, that’s a very important differentiator.
TCC: It sounds great. My mom is recovering from brain surgery and I’m in California right now to kind of tend to things, make sure her people are taking care of her. And she’s doing magnificently. No one would believe she’s the same person from last year to now. But the caregiving team is really important. It’s made my dad’s job a lot easier other than financially. It’s hard for him to pay for it but he’s very lucky to have these three caregivers who love and take care of my mom.
LG: Wow. You know it’s a very unique relationship. And I always tell people to begin to explore those conversations, because it’s such a customizable option. If you’re bringing someone into your home, that has to be the right kind of relationship. You have to have those discussions and that’s part of what you need to be looking for when you’re exploring whether this is right for you or not. And that’s part of what I think makes a decision the right one. It’s when you know that you’re ready to make that choice if you’re doing it. If you’ve got the right company or not, if they’re really listening to what’s important to you and what’s meaningful to you, then you know okay great, “Here’s who we need to go with because they care about that.”
TCC: True. How often do you get back to South Carolina?
LG: I’m so lucky I get to go back often. I’m back about five times a year. And my family is also there, I have really close friends there. We have Leeza’s Care Connection there, and so I have lots of reasons to stay extremely involved with my community. And a big part of my heart will always be there. I haven’t lived there since I left college I haven’t lived there, but I still feel like I belong.
TCC: It sounds like you had such a great upbringing, I’d want to be there too.
LG: Yeah, it’s a pretty cool place to be from and it’s a welcoming place where the doors are open, the coffee’s on, everybody’s got outstretched arms to just take you in. There’s a lot to be said for it, there really is.
TCC: I miss you on Entertainment Tonight. How is entertainment journalism different now than when you were on the show?
LG: I think it’s a lot harder to compete now. I’m glad I don’t have to be in the day to day world because I think it’s tough. I think that we as a culture, not just in entertainment journalism, but in general the boundaries have become extreme. You know, all bets are off and it seems that there’s not much that we consider off limits. I’m just glad that I was in it at the time when I was, which just seemed like—maybe everybody feels that way then they do a look back on their life and career. And I always think for me, my motto is ‘ever forward’ and I think that’s the best way to live your life.
The people working in it now, I really give them credit. They have to be self-promoters, they have to really understand marketing, they have to compete on a much different level, and I’m sure it’s still such a great industry. I think it’s still a really exciting arena in which to express your professional chops. But I think that it has become exceedingly more difficult to do it, to keep a taste level and compete.
TCC: Then what do you miss the most about hosting your own show?
LG: You know what I miss? The energy of live audiences, because there’s no substitute for that exchange that you get in real time when you’re sharing a moment, a same with people who are in that same time and space with you. I really just love that. I enjoy it when I get to travel and make speeches now. I like that a lot too. But that’s probably the thing that I miss the most.
TCC: Well you’ve been incredibly personable. You seem to like people. And hearing about that, it is a perfect balance between being storyteller and a listener.
LG: Thank you for that. Well, that’s a very lovely compliment. I really have been honored, and I feel that it has been an honor and a position of great trust and value when someone allows you to tell their story. When you get to be the vessel that holds that information. And then, you get to be the way that it makes its way to the marketplace. That’s really amazing. That’s extraordinary. And I’ve always been very indiscriminate about the kinds of stories. I love all kinds of stories and love to just be wide open to receive them and spit them back out. That’s just always to me, the greatest thrill.
TCC: Well, you won 2015 Celebrity Apprentice. What would you say was the secret to your success on that show?
LG: I had a burning desire. I think in life we get what we focus on and I knew what I wanted. I was passionate about having an opportunity to get to the finish line and bring attention to family caregivers, to my family’s journey, and the other millions of people who battle chronic illness and disease and their caregivers. So I really wanted that opportunity, and it gave me an awful lot of stamina.
I believe that optimism is a real driver of success because it allows us to be so resilient. If you’re optimistic, it really just means that you have the ability to bounce back and fight back and rebound from anything. So, on the show, just as in life, when things go wrong and when things distract you and when things disappoint you or you disappoint yourself, the successful person will get that lesson, receive that information, and get back on track quickly. And it’s your ability to reset I think that moves us forward. What I was able to do on Celebrity Apprentice was stay focused on my end game and not get sucked into and distracted by the drama. And I think people who get where they want to go in life are able to stay in their lane and not get distracted by the other races that are going on in the lanes on either side of them.
TCC: What do you like best about working with Dr. Denese?
LG: I have great respect for women who have charted their own destiny and Dr. Denese has certainly done that. I think she is so smart, and so passionate, and such a good communicator, and she has a great product. So again for me it’s another great story to tell. It’s another way to empower women to be the best that they can be. So those are really wonderful things.
TCC: I also think their concealer’s one of the best things on the market. My sister’s a huge fan of it.
LG: There you go. Right.
TCC: Now here’s a little lighter question and then we’ll go on to a couple more questions about Senior Helpers. What do you like to do for fun?
LG: I love to hike. We live in California which offers some of the greatest hiking of all time, I think. And I live near one of the canyons that offers some really beautiful vistas. It’s something that I like to do actually alone often, but I drag my husband occasionally and he reluctantly goes with me because he considers a hike like a walk around the block. He’s like, “Okay, that’s fine. We’re done.” So I like to do that. I like to write, I like to express things with old school things like paper and use crafty things. It’s not that I’m incredibly crafty, but I love to relax by pulling out that box of ribbons, and buttons, and embellishments, and lace, and making cards and personal messages. I like to make people a box of hope or a box of wisdom and silly little things like that because I’m into quotes and aspirations.
TCC: Your kids must like getting those.
LG: Oh my gosh they roll their eyes. They can’t stand it. Some day they may appreciate it but now they just say, “Oh, it’s a mom-ism. Not another mom-ism.”
TCC: If you were only allowed one makeup product, what would it be? Or item, not necessarily a brand, but just a…
TCC: Sunscreen? Wow. That’s interesting, I wasn’t expecting that, but that’s a good one.
LG: Yeah, it’s a basic and, you know, I grew up just brutalizing my skin with the cocoa butter and all of those awful things that we used to do, and I used to be really, really bronzed every summer and I look back on that now and it’s so gorgeous, but I think I would’ve backed away from the sun and worn some more sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat more often.
TCC: So why are you so committed to helping other people working with older people?
LG: I think that, in our culture, we find older people to be almost invisible, and it’s such a shame. The one thing, the one condition that we all suffer from, and that we all benefit from, is ageing. It starts at zero and we’re all going in the same direction, and I always try to see the young person underneath the older person and that’s all of us. We all feel the same way inside, and I think that there are so many ways for us to age well and to help our senior population get to the golden years with more dignity more independent and more enjoyment.
And it doesn’t need to be as burdensome and have as much dread factor as we assign to it. I think that we are strongest when we can see our limits and we can open up and ask for help. So that’s why I really value my partnership with Senior Helpers. I really appreciate the education that they offer families. I appreciate the fact that many families feel that they can exhale and feel some support for the first time, look at options in their care plans, look at ways to be more present with their seniors. Ways to just value day to day living. Besides they can manage it more.
Now we have three times more adult children than ever in our history looking for ways to find care for their senior parents. It used to be that the child care is the big issue in the ’80s. But now it’s family care. And there are options, there are things that we can do, there are ways that we could be more present in the workforce because we know we’ve got things taken care of with mum or dad. And it’s worth the time to investigate and explore. The kinds of services that places like Senior Helpers can offer. So seniorhelpers.com is where you can begin to take a look and see if this is right for you, view up kinds of things they offer, and start exploring that conversation for your family.
TCC: But how do you deal with guilt if you live faraway and don’t think you can give your loved ones enough time?
LG: Guilt is kind of that constant companion that most caregivers judge themselves by job performance and not by attendance. But here’s the deal. You’re showing up, and mom always said, “Show up, do your best, let go of the rest.” All you can do every day is try. And when we try, and when we make an effort, that’s your best. Some days you’re not going to do as well as maybe you thought you could’ve, or as well as you wanted to, that means you get to try again tomorrow. So, release that try again and move forward. The reality is, if you are telling your loved one your intention and showing your intention of wanting to do the best you can, then that’s it. We miss opportunities to show the people in our lives how much we care, and that’s all there is. All we can do is try.
TCC: That’s all any of us can do.
LG: Exactly, amen.
TCC: What’s next for you?
LG: Oh, gosh, I’m just so happy. Things that fall into my life have always been so wonderfully surprising, I think that the things always show up for our greater good, whether we recognize it or not. But I, like everybody, have those secret things that I’d love to do. I’d love to be a voice in an animated movie, I think that’d be super cool, and I’d love to get my contractor’s license and get an all-girl team together and remodel houses. I’ve got lots of things on the horizon that I’d like to explore, but right now I’m happy being an advocate for healthcare and running my non-profit and keeping my toe in the TV business, it’s sure been good to me.
TCC: What is the name of your not-for-profit?
LG: Leeza’s Care Connection.
TCC: Now, how do you like your fans to connect with you?
LG: I am on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and love to have conversations with fans and followers, so I’m @leezagibbons, and leezagibbons.com.
TCC: And is there anything else you’d like to add?
LG: I’m so glad we got a chance to connect, it’s really lovely to talk to you, Michelle, thank you.
TCC: I am, too, thank you very much. I hope you have a wonderful day, and I wish you success in everything you do, Leeza, you sound like a wonderful person.
LG: Same to you, and I’m glad your mom’s doing well.
TCC: She is, thank you. And I hope your dad continues to do well, too.