Journalist and television personality Leeza Gibbons amasses inspired achievements like the Hollywood Walk of Fame amasses terrazzo stars: Entertainment Tonight correspondent and fan favourite. Emmy Award-winning talk show host. New York Times bestselling author. Celebrity Apprentice winner.
Her storied career has produced so many glowing accolades, it begs the question, “What hasn’t she done?” In the fiercely competitive world of entertainment that – from the outside, at least – appears to be rife with cold hostility and chaotic dysfunction, Leeza’s warm positivity and welcoming calm begs an even more pressing question, “How does she do it?”
“My parents showed me that I had a choice in how to view the world,” she says. “They showed me simply that things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out. That’s what optimists do. It’s not about the glass being half full. I OWN the glass. It’s my job to fill it up when it gets emptied out for whatever reason.”
Glassware aside, an optimistic worldview can’t insulate a person from life’s bumps and bruises. Like everyone, Leeza has encountered heartache and made mistakes. Fame doesn’t immunize the illustrious from life’s hard knocks – or harder lessons. According to her, fame doesn’t make or break anyone.
“Rather, it’s been my experience that it reveals the person you were always supposed to be,” she says. “Those who are generous, kind, empathetic and compassionate tend to become more so with the spotlight on them. Arrogance, selfishness and small-mindedness is revealed by fame more quickly, too.”
In her opinion, that places the entertainment industry on par with most others; the people who work hard, care about others and value their principles tend to keep their feet on the ground. It doesn’t matter if they happen to be wearing better shoes.
Or shoes designed for a more seasoned pair of feet. Leeza recently celebrated her 60th birthday and she’s approaching the next chapter of her life unshackled by the outdated narratives of past generations.
“I have to admit, turning 60 snuck up on me quickly, but it feels powerful and positive,” she says. “The view from here is all about focusing on what’s left and not what’s lost.”
It’s another positive worldview that should serve her well. Rather than play it safe – an attitude she feels yields nothing but a boring and brittle shell of your former self – Leeza vows to remain flexible and fluid, tapping into the energy of youth and change. For her, hitting the big 6-0 is the time to reprioritize and reshuffle the deck.
“It’s exciting to be part of redefining what 60 means to me and my generation, so I’m excited to see what this new decade has in store for me. I truly think it will be my most authentic and courageous one yet!”
There’s that signature optimism again, coupled with a healthy sense of adventure. Entering one’s sixth decade used to mean slowing down and easing into retirement, often creating a stigma of futility. But Leeza recognizes that attitudes are shifting in our society.
“For us baby boomers turning 60, it’s more about redefining ourselves by a new set of rules. With the rise in technology, resources and healthcare innovations, we can age successfully and, more importantly, we can harness the power within ourselves to make it a positive experience.”
The times are indeed a’changing. As Leeza is quick to point out, we’re approaching an era when people over the age of 65 will outnumber children under the age of five. That’s unprecedented, making the importance of breaking down aging barriers all the more urgent. From her perspective, baby boomers are working harder than ever before to challenge aging stigmas.
Still, the effects of time can’t be denied – or ignored in Leeza’s chosen field. How does she stay competitive in an industry increasingly obsessed with youth?
“We need to expand our definitions of beauty to include mature and powerful women,” she says. “No one escapes aging. It is a universal ‘disease’ until we reframe it as a privilege that not everyone gets to experience.”
The hard lesson on aging was earned through one of life’s hardest knocks. When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Leeza and her family faced their greatest test. She promised her mom she would “tell her story and make it count.” She kept the promise by creating Leeza’s Care Connection to help ease the challenges of family caregivers.
“For a long time, my father didn’t want to show his cards when taking care of my mom – he told my siblings and me that he had everything under control. I didn’t push back because I didn’t want to cross the respect boundary. But it turned out that he didn’t have everything prepared for my mom and he was embarrassed to admit that to his children.”
Leeza acknowledges it can be difficult – even awkward – to broach these issues, but she insists the conversation must take place. She believes that by asking questions and getting information before a crisis manifests, it’s possible for parents and children to have the talk without crossing boundaries or being disrespectful. Equally important are considerations of the help that’s available outside the family dynamic.
Leeza’s father, who lives alone in South Carolina, was recently diagnosed with heart disease. In her own role as a caregiver, she had to learn to ask for help. She’s now a strong advocate for accessing resources available in the community.
“The stress of being a long-distance caregiver was made much easier when I got him a medical-alert service, which provided peace of mind not only for dad but for my entire family.”
More than peace of mind, in fact. In the summer of 2015, her father suffered a heart attack and couldn’t reach a phone to call for help. The medical-alert service, Philips Lifeline, saved his life. Leeza subsequently partnered with the company to help start a candid conversation on how to make aging safer and less stressful for both older adults and their caregivers.
“We shouldn’t fear getting older, and if we have the right tools and resources in place, we don’t have to. I’m really proud of my work with Philips and all the ways we are helping people stay connected and more empowered about their health overall.”
With all of the personal challenges she has weathered, Leeza remains resolutely optimistic. The key, she says, is two-fold: approaching life with solution-oriented thinking allows one to bounce back from disappointment; and narrowing in on life’s wonder and inspiration offers new hope. After all, our greatest growth in terms of strength and courage can stem from life’s most challenging events. And few events rank as more challenging than a loved one’s illness.
“Seeing a family come together after getting devastating news and finding a way to move forward with faith, determination, love and a focus on what’s left rather than what’s lost inspires me,” she says. “A bend in the road is not the end of the road, and I’m inspired by the detours of the human spirit.”
With that kind of attitude to help guide her through life’s next chapter, you can be sure Leeza has many more inspired achievements and glowing accolades ahead of her.