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Phyllis George, the former Miss Texas and Miss America who made history as a sportscaster on the CBS pregame show The NFL Today, has died. She was 70.
George died Thursday after a long struggle with a blood disorder at a hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, a family spokeswoman announced.
George’s role in 1974 as Allen Funt’s co-emcee of CBS’ Candid Camera launched her career in television. That year, the network recruited her to join Brent Musburger and Irv Cross on the cast of The NFL Today. (Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder would come aboard the Sunday program later).
One of the first women to have a nationally prominent role reporting for TV sports, she also covered horse racing events, including the Preakness and Belmont stakes.
George became the host of the entertainment show People, the TV version of the magazine, in 1978. Seven years later, she co-anchored the CBS Morning News, where she interviewed prominent guests including Nancy Reagan.
George was married to Hollywood producer Robert Evans from 1977-78 — she was the fourth of his seven wives — and to John Y. Brown Jr. from 1979-98. (Brown owned Kentucky Fried Chicken and the NBA’s Boston Celtics and served as the governor of Kentucky from 1979-83.)
“Phyllis was a fighter, and her children have shown her incredible love during this struggle,” Brown said in a statement. “She was an incredible first lady for Kentucky.”
Born on June 25, 1949, in Denton, Texas, George attended the University of North Texas for three years. She was crowned Miss Texas in 1970, and that got her into Texas Christian University, which awarded scholarships to Miss Texas honorees. She then studied classical piano at TCU until she won the Miss America pageant in fall 1971.
She worked on The NFL Today from 1975 until 1984.
“When you’re the first, you’re a pioneer,” George told USA Today in 1999. “I felt they didn’t know who Phyllis George was. They played me up as a former Miss America, a sex symbol. I can’t help how I look, but below the surface, I was a hard-working woman. If I hadn’t made that work, women eventually would have come into sportscasting, but it would have taken them longer.”
She founded Chicken by George, which she sold to Hormel Foods in 1988, and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft; launched Phyllis George Beauty, a line of cosmetics and skincare sold though HSN, in 2003; and wrote five books.
Survivors include her children, Lincoln Tyler George Brown and CNN White House correspondent Pamela Ashley Brown, and her grandchildren, Benny and 8-week-old Vivienne.
George was diagnosed with her blood disorder when she was in her 30s.
In a joint statement, her children said: “For many, Mom was known by her incredible accomplishments as the pioneering female sportscaster, 50th Miss America and first lady.
“But this was all before we were born and never how we viewed Mom. To us, she was the most incredible mother we could ever ask for, and it is all of 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, only to be outdone by an unwavering spirit that allowed her to persevere against all the odds.”
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