Kathie Lee Gifford signed off from the Today show permanently on Friday, after 11 years on the NBC program. The longtime morning TV personality is giving up the daily grind to focus on other projects — movies, music — and relocate full-time to Nashville, where she’s found happiness since she became a widow.
Her TV partner in crime, Hoda Kotb, gave her a big send-off with drinks (of course!), surprise guests (including John Cena, who she jumped on and wouldn’t let go of, and Barry Manilow, who performed a special version of “Can't Smile Without You” for her), pre-taped tributes (her original morning buddy Regis Philbin sent a message) — and they did it all in fabulous coordinating red jumpsuits.
Kathie Lee, whose husband, sports great Frank Gifford, died in 2015, had the support of her nearest and dearest for the show, including her son, Cody Gifford, who was in the audience with his girlfriend. She even got to embarrass the 29-year-old one last time on morning TV — something she’s done throughout his life — telling the audience he was conceived on a Carnival Cruise. (True story.)
Kathie Lee’s 25-year-old daughter, Cassidy, was working (an actress, she’s shooting the faith-based series The Baxters with Roma Downey) but she recorded a segment with Cody that made the departing host get emotional. In it, the siblings talked about how proud their father was of their mom — as photos of their family flashed on the screen.
“What I learned through my dad’s eyes about my mom was just how proud he was of her,” Cody said.
Cassidy added, “I just remember in the last few years before our dad passed away, if I was ever home and we were sitting watching mom at 10am, he used to always say first, ‘Boy, your mom is so pretty.’ Then he’d say, ‘You know, there is no one else like her. Who knows if there ever will be.’ There are so many talented people out there, but there is something about my mom that resonates with so many people and has for so long, which is why she is still kicking butt, doing what she is doing and has more energy than we have... She’s like a 7-year-old.”
After the sweet bit ended, which also talked about Kathie Lee and Hoda’s close, off-camera friendship, an emotional Kathie Lee went over to hug and thank Cody. That’s when the tears truly came. As they embraced, he said to her, “We love you, mom. I’m so proud of you.” Then he dropped the real tearjerker of a line: “Dad is too.”
That was enough for Kathie Lee, who had kept it together throughout the show. “Ugh — I’m done now,” she said all teary. “I’m done.”
Luckily, at that point, they really were done. After bringing out the whole staff — including Kathie Lee’s replacement, Jenna Bush Hager, and other personalities including Al Roker and Carson Daly — for a toast, Kathie Lee had 30 seconds to deliver her final words, a bible verse.
“Jeremiah 29 says I know the plans I have for you, declares the lord,” she said. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope. That's not just true for me, you guys, that's true for everybody watching. Trust him. Let him love you like he wants to love you. Like I am loved by all of you. Thank you.”
Hager will take the seat alongside Kotb on Monday.
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