NEW YORK - Bryant Gumbel shocked a television audience yesterday with the news that he's recovering from lung cancer surgery and treatment.
The former Today show anchor, 61, said that a malignant tumor and part of his lung were removed two months ago. He revealed his condition to Kelly Ripa while subbing for Regis Philbin on ABC's Live With Regis and Kelly. (Philbin recently had hip replacement surgery.)
"It's nothing to hide from," Gumbel said. "They opened up my chest, they took out a malignant tumor, they took out part of my lung, and they took out some other goodies."
Even with the surgery, some aggressive cancer cells had escaped, "so I went through some treatment and it's done now," he said.
Gumbel said he and his wife, Hilary Quinlan, had wanted to keep the news private. He said he had even kept his staff at the HBO sports newsmagazine Real Sports in the dark. HBO said Gumbel didn't miss an episode, taping shows on both Sept. 15 and Oct. 27.
"We hope," he said. "We hope it's over."
Gumbel was host of Today for 15 years, ending in 1997, as the show became a ratings juggernaut. He worked first with Jane Pauley, briefly with Deborah Norville, then with Katie Couric. He moved to CBS for a prime-time newsmagazine. After that did poorly, he moved back to the mornings, hosting The Early Show from 1999-2002.
He's receded from the public eye since then, concentrating on Real Sports, an Emmy-winning monthly magazine that takes a newsy look at sports issues.
Had Ripa not stumbled upon the news before the taping, Gumbel's health might still be under wraps.
At the opening of yesterday's show, Ripa told Gumbel that "you just made me almost faint." Backstage, Ripa had remarked that she wanted to dance with him to accompany a segment with a woman who dances for exercise. Gumbel demurred, and when Ripa pushed it, he said he was not allowed to dance. Then he told her the reason, she said.
Gumbel said he was to meet with his surgeon and oncologist next week and hoped to be cleared to play golf.