'People Were Sobbing' at Today When Kathie Lee Gifford Announced Her Exit, Source Says
Gifford, who has hosted the NBC morning show’s popular fourth hour alongside Hoda Kotb for the last decade, announced Tuesday that she’ll be leaving the show in April 2019 after celebrating her 11-year anniversary.
The news, which NBC News president Noah Oppenheim announced to staff in a memo earlier in the day, left the Today team reeling, according to a source.
“She always signed one-year contracts and she would always say, ‘This is my last year,’ but nobody ever thought she was actually going to leave,” the source tells PEOPLE. “Last year, they asked her to please stay [after Matt Lauer was fired] because there were so many changes going on, so she did. Now that she’s really leaving, it’s just really sad.”
“People are so sad she is leaving. People were sobbing,” the source continues. “People are so happy for her and she will of course stick around. She’ll be back here and there for sure. Everybody really loves working with her, so it’s sad for her to go. People are going to genuinely miss her. They know how excited she is about her movies and music, but selfishly people love her. She’s a legend.”
According to the source, after moving on, Gifford will be spending more time in Nashville, where she produces religious movies and music.
“She spends so much time in Nashville now,” the source says. “She decided to make that her second home. And she has a presence in Los Angeles, too, where her kids live. So she’ll be between New York, L.A. and Nashville.”
Gifford herself admitted that she originally only planned to stay at the show for a year while breaking the “bittersweet” news of her exit to viewers.
“I’ve been here almost 11 years. I thought I would stay one year, but something happened along the way: I fell in love with a beautiful Egyptian goddess,” she said, referring to her co-host Kotb, 54.
“It’s an exciting time for me, and I’m thrilled about all the projects that are coming up,” she continued. “But it’s also hard, because the reason I stayed longer than a year is 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. 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 previously told PEOPLE that she had informed NBC last January that she would leave at the end of the year to pursue film projects, but Matt Lauer‘s overnight firing in November for alleged sexual misconduct prompted her to shift her plans.
“Some things were painful for us. And we had to adjust, and then they said, ‘If we accommodate your schedule, will you consider staying?’ ” she said. “I wasn’t looking to get out, but I needed the time. So when they accommodated the schedule, then there was no reason to leave. There’s no better place in a 50-year career.”