She was 70.
George died Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky of complications from a blood disorder, her ex-husband, former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., told the Louisville Courier Journal.
She had managed symptoms of the blood cancer polycythemia vera since she was diagnosed in her 30s.
George is also survived by her two children with Brown: technology entrepreneur Lincoln Brown and CNN White House correspondent Pamela Brown, as well as her two grandchildren.
As the first woman to co-anchor “The NFL Today,” George paved the way for other women in broadcasting.
George, a native of Denton, Texas who was known for her charisma, first stepped into the spotlight as Miss America.
In 1970, George, then Miss Texas, was crowned Miss America 1971 in Atlantic City, two years after the famous feminist protest of the pageant. After the crown fell off her head, George, then 21, picked it up and kept walking, prize in hand. The same year, Cheryl Adrienne Browne, Miss Iowa, became the first African American contestant at the pageant. In 1971, George, Browne and other contestants traveled to Vietnam as part of a USO tour.
CNN reports that George’s TV appearances, including spots on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” moved Robert Wussler, president of CBS Sports, to offer her a job in sportscasting. She started out on “The NFL Today” in 1975 alongside Irv Cross, Brent Musburger and “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder.
“She paved the way for other women to become sportscasters,” Pamela Brown told CNN.
But she said her mother also had to contend with naysayers.
“She had a whole box of letters from people who wrote her and said awful things,” Brown said. “’What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are?’ Because it was a man’s job. Mom said that when she stopped reading the letters, she gained so much confidence.”
George covered major events including the Super Bowl and went on to co-anchor “CBS Morning News” in 1985. She also hosted “Candid Camera” and a TV show for People magazine.
From 1979 to 1983, during her marriage to John Brown Jr., George served as first lady of Kentucky. She founded the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
George, who was previously married to the Hollywood producer Robert Evans (from 1977 to 1978), sold her food brand, Chicken By George, to Hormel Foods in 1988, started a cosmetics line — Phyllis George Beauty — that she promoted on the Home Shopping Network, and wrote a 2002 book called “Never Say Never: 10 Lessons to Turn You Can’t Into Yes I Can.” In 2000, she had a small role in the hit movie “Meet the Parents,” starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro.