Today marks the end of an era on television — Kathie Lee Gifford is stepping away from the small screen after over 50 years. According to Today, the actress and television host is leaving the Today Show after 11 years to be able to focus on “film, music, and book projects.”
A day after announcing her planned departure, Kathie Lee told her colleagues on The Today Show her motivation for leaving.
“If you’re not being artistic, you die on the vine. I want to do something beautiful, and brand new and learn something brand new on the day I die.”
This is a mantra that has seemed to span Kathie Lee’s life in entertainment since she first joined the industry in 1965. Her first job was in the role of Nurse Callahan on the daytime soap opera Days of our Lives.
However, Gifford’s big break came when she was cast as a vocalist on the game show Name That Tune with Tom Kennedy. In the show, Kathie Lee, then known as Kathie Lee Johnson, would sing songs so that contestants could “name that tune.” She was on the show from 1974-1978.
After leaving Name That Tune, Gifford joined the cast of television series Hee Haw Honeys, a spinoff of the comedy music show Hee Haw. The show did not find particular success and was canceled within the year.
But Kathie’s Lee’s next big break was right around the corner. In 1985, she joined Regis Philbin as co-host of The Morning Show on WABC-TV. Four years later, the show went national and became the hit show Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee.
The duo dominated morning television and earned nominations for Outstanding Talk Show Host for the Daytime Emmy Awards eight years in a row. Entertainment Weekly described their chemistry as “an agreeable mismatch” and called the show “funny, energetic, and surprising.”
In 2000, Kathie Lee decided to leave the program to pursue other opportunities. She returned to her musical roots with the hit “Love Never Fails” on the album The Heart of a Woman. She also continued to do bit roles in television shows like Touched by an Angel, The Drew Carrey Show, and Just Shoot Me!
In 2008, it was announced that Kathie Lee would be returning the morning show sphere by co-hosting Today’s fourth hour with Hoda Kotb. The show was a huge success for NBC, and Kotb and Gifford remained as co-hosts for over a decade.
Though Gifford said she had only expected to stay on the show for a year, Kathie Lee told viewers on Today that her immediate friendship with Kotb changed her mind.
“I thought I would stay one year. Something happened along the way — fell in love with a beautiful Egyptian goddess. We’re going to be friends for the rest of our lives. I’m grateful to God for you.”
Kathie Lee’s colleagues on NBC have been voicing their admiration and good wishes.
— Hoda Kotb (@hodakotb) December 11, 2018
— Savannah Guthrie (@SavannahGuthrie) December 11, 2018
Jenna Bush Hager, who is replacing Gifford, also thanked the now former host in a sweet tweet.
We adore you KLG. Thanks for your love, friendship and for your hilarity. You will be dearly missed. ❤️ https://t.co/8oUduJQEgl
— Jenna Bush Hager (@JennaBushHager) December 11, 2018
In their final taping, Gifford and Kotb paid homage to their very first episode by wearing the same outfits, a yellow and red coat, respectively, as on their first outing together.
As a final gesture, Today renamed the plaza Kathie Lee Gifford Plaza in her honor. Kathie Lee Gifford’s last day is April 5, 2019.