Kathie Lee Gifford Is Leaving the 'Today' Show After 11 Years

Kathie Lee Gifford made the emotional announcement Tuesday on-air

Kathie Lee Gifford is leaving the Today show after over a decade.

The news was announced Tuesday in a memo to staff from NBC News president Noah Oppenheim. Gifford, 65, made the announcement to fans as she opened the show’s fourth hour with co-host Hoda Kotb.

“I have something to share with everybody, and it’s bittersweet as these things always are,” she began. “It’s an exciting time for me, and I’m thrilled about all the projects that are coming up. But it’s also hard … because I love everybody here so much.”

“I’ve been in this business 120 years and never worked with a more beautiful group of people who just give, give, give, every day,” she continued. “Four hours of live television every day, five days a week. We have fun and we laugh and we support one another and we know each other’s kids names and we know when someone’s having a colonoscopy. We know everything! We do life together.”

Gifford also said she “fell in love” with Kotb, 54, during their time together, calling her a “beautiful Egyptian goddess.”

“You’re just so special, Hoda,” she said. “Thank you, thank you so much.”

Kotb was also emotional.

“The minute you stepped into my life, everything changed,” she said as she began to cry.

Today - Season 62
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In his memo, Oppenheim began, “It is with mixed emotions that I share the news Kathie Lee Gifford has decided it’s time to leave TODAY.”

“As we all know, Kathie Lee’s plate has been overflowing lately with film, music and book projects, and after giving us eleven extraordinary years, she’s decided to focus her attention full-time on those other creative endeavors,” he continued.

“When we first launched this incredible hour, no one could have predicted the lightning (or rather, wine) in a bottle that is Hoda & Kathie Lee. Whether in studio or on one of their many road trips, they have delighted our audience with their distinct brand of fun, friendship and adventure. During that time, Kathie Lee has cemented her status as one of the most enduring and endearing talents in morning television. In short — she is a legend.”

“As Kathie Lee told me today: ‘In 2008, I joined the TODAY Show family intending to spend one year. But something unexpected happened along the way: I fell in love with a beautiful, talented, extraordinary Egyptian goddess named Hoda, and an amazing group of individuals who work tirelessly and joyfully at their jobs, many of them starting at midnight, creating an unprecedented four hours of live television. I stayed year after year making a million memories with people I will never forget. I leave TODAY with a grateful heart but I’m truly excited for this new creative season in my life. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who made the years fly by.’

According to the memo, Gifford will stay with the show through her 11th anniversary on April 7, 2019.

As she previously told PEOPLE, she had intended to leave last year — until Matt Lauer’s sexual misconduct scandal rocked the network.

A source tells PEOPLE that Gifford would sign one-year contracts throughout her tenure, and that her exit is bittersweet for the NBC staff.

“She would always say, ‘This is my last year, but nobody ever thought she was actually going to leave,” the source says. “Now that she’s really leaving, it’s just really sad.”

“People were sobbing” during her announcement, the source adds. “She’ll be back here and there for sure … everybody loves working her, so it’s sad for her to go. People are going to genuinely miss her, but they know how excited she is about her movies and music … but selfishly, people love her. She’s a legend.

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