Friday's episode marked the longtime anchor's 11-year anniversary with the network

By Jodi Guglielmi and Aurelie Corinthios
April 05, 2019 10:21 AM
Advertisement

Kathie Lee Gifford has officially taken her last sip of wine on the Today show.

Gifford, 65, delivered her final broadcast as the host of the show’s popular fourth hour on Friday. She bid farewell to her co-host and close friend Hoda Kotb and the rest of the Today crew, marking her 11-year anniversary with the network.

After a special performance from Flo Rida, who turned his hit “My House” turned into “Kathie Lee’s House,” Gifford sat down with Kotb, 54.

“I feel great, I do,” she said. “The last two weeks, since of this crazy stuff began, I had no expectations. You want to bear it well. You want to honor the Lord with whatever you say and do, but you also want to have fun and remind people of why this show worked in the beginning. Because we have fun and we have a friendship and it’s real.”

“We also have great love and affection and respect for our audience,” she added. “We know you guys are sick of bad news by the time you turn on our show in the morning! We don’t want to be more bad news for you.”

Kotb said the reason their show has worked is all thanks to Gifford, pointing out that two of the most successful morning shows of all time were theirs and Gifford’s show with Regis Philbin, Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee.

“Two shows have worked really well in the history of daytime television: Regis and Kathie Lee, and Kathie Lee and me,” she said. “So what is the common denominator between those two?!”

Throughout the hour, Gifford was surprised by a host of celebrity guests, including Dean Cain, Ryan Eggold and her good friend Barry Manilow, who performed a beautiful rendition of “Can’t Smile Without You.” John Cena showed up to host a special trivia game, revealing that 5,300 glasses of wine have been served on the show in 11 years.

Gifford’s former co-host Philbin, 87, also made an appearance via video message, calling their 15 years on air together the “best part” of his television career.

“He called me yesterday,” Gifford revealed. “We had a lovely talk.”

Last but not least, Gifford was surprised with a touching segment courtesy of her son Cody, 29, and daughter Cassidy, 25, who opened up about growing up with the television icon and their father, the late Frank Gifford.

“You did so many things right in your life but Cody and Cass — that was the most right,” Kotb told Gifford, tearing up.

Finally, they brought the whole Today show cast on stage for a final toast.

“I have 30 seconds to say what has taken me a lifetime to say,” Gifford said, getting emotional. “Jeremiah 29 says, ‘I know the plans I have you,’ declares the Lord, ‘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 like he wants to love you, like I am loved by all of you. Thank you.”

Gifford, who first announced her departure in December, recently opened up to PEOPLE about her decision to leave the show, admitting it’s been harder than expected.

“I thought I’d stay a year and here it is 11 years later,” she said. “And in those 11 years, a lot of life has happened.”

Gifford said she realized it was time to make a change in her life after she began writing and producing Christian songs and films (her film Love Me to Death, co-starring Craig Ferguson, comes out this month).

“The work that I want to do isn’t here anymore,” she said. “I am an artist, I’m an actress, I’m a writer, I’m a songwriter, a director now. That’s the stuff that feeds my soul and I know that I’m running out of time to do those things.”

Leaving the show behind (former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager, 37, is set to step in as co-host alongside Kotb on April 8) “is bittersweet,” Gifford said, “but I fell in love with the people and I intend to take them with me wherever I go.”