TV journalist Katie Couric reveals the stories that speak to her most, and how she survived unimaginable loss.
When Katie Couric lost her husband Jay Monahan to colon cancer in 1998, the country grieved with the Today anchor known as “America’s Sweetheart.” But Katie, who has two daughters with Jay, turned the tragedy into a call to action, allowing herself to be filmed as she underwent a colonoscopy, convincing thousands of people to have the life-saving screening. “Jay’s death was really an unspeakable loss for my daughters and me,” she says, “but through that loss, I’ve been able to give back in ways I never imagined.”
After 15 years at Today, in 2006 Katie went on to become the first woman to solo anchor the evening news. On Sept. 9 (check local listings), she will launch the second season of her ABC chat fest, Katie. We asked Katie, 56, about her dream interviews, fighting back against cancer, her secrets for a healthy life, and more.
Spry: As tragic as Jay’s death was, has anything good come from it?
Katie: I think that a lot of lives were saved following my colonoscopy—that helped to demystify and educate people about screening, because colon cancer is highly preventable if it’s detected early. People have come up to me and said, “I was screened, and it saved my life,” and I constantly receive letters. That’s certainly very gratifying, although I wish I hadn’t become an advocate for colon-cancer screening and my husband hadn’t gotten sick. I’m also one of the founders of Stand Up to Cancer, which has raised something like $260 million. It’s funding dream teams of scientists all across the country who, for the first time, are collaborating and developing some novel approaches for a whole host of cancers.
Spry: Your book is called The Best Advice I Ever Got. What’s the best health advice you’ve ever received?
Katie: I guess it’s exercising with friends. If you can focus your social life a little less on eating and drinking and a little more on getting out and moving, it’s a great way to spend time with people and also do something that’s good for you and for them. Plus, it guilts you into exercising when you don’t feel like it.
Spry: You look great. Can you tell us your secret to aging well?
Katie: Staying engaged, being happy, not getting too jaded or cynical, and always enjoying your work. I feel so lucky that I have so many great people in my life—my daughters, my mom. I have really wonderful friends. I’m a real extrovert, and being surrounded by people who make me laugh, who I can talk to about anything, and who would like me whether I’m on TV or not (well, most of them)—it’s a wonderful thing. If you have enthusiasm for life and all the experiences that you can have, I think that keeps you young from the inside out.
Spry: What’s your favorite workout?
Katie: I’m big into Spinning [fitness classes on stationary bikes], but that has to be counteracted with yoga, because Spinning tightens your muscles. When you get a little older, it’s really important to stretch and be flexible and do weight-bearing exercises, as well. So I try. Listen, I fall off the wagon—I go for a week, sometimes two, not exercising, but I always feel better when I do. With my schedule, I have to put it on my calendar.
Spry: Name five foods you always have in your refrigerator.
Katie: Fage plain Greek yogurt. Berries. Nutella (don’t tell anyone). Carrots. Claussen’s half-sour pickles. (Let’s give them a little plug. Maybe they’ll send me some pickles.)
Spry: What’s on your bucket list?
Katie: I’ve always wanted to spend a year in Paris. I want to take a cooking class—any kind. I’d like to learn Italian. I would like to learn how to scuba dive, and go to the Great Barrier Reef and Lizard Island in Australia.
Spry: Any tips for dating in your 50s and up?
Katie: I think it’s really about your attitude. You have to be OK with meeting somebody who’s nice and interesting, but may not necessarily ring your bell, if you know what I’m saying. So I think it’s putting yourself out there, being open, but also being excited about meeting new people even if they’re not going to be life partners.
Spry: Tell us about some of your favorite Katie shows so far.
Katie: No two shows are alike: Some are super lively, like the gang from Grown Ups 2 [Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade]. It felt like you were hanging out with old friends in a rec room somewhere. I also like doing shows that help make people aware of a problem that
they didn’t know existed, like the show I did on sexual assault in the military. With the right legislation, the situation could be a lot better for countless women and men. When I did a show on autism, it was important to talk to some young men and women who have autism about making that transition from being cared for by your parents to becoming a more independent adult. So it really has run the gamut.
Spry: What’s your goal for Katie’s second season?
Katie: I really want to keep telling stories that will make people sit up and say, “Wow. That was incredibly inspiring,” or “That person got through something really difficult. I can draw strength from their story.”