By Ruth Kinane
April 05, 2019 at 11:50 AM EDT
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Raise a glass of pinot grigio to Kathie Lee Gifford on her last day on the Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. 

After 11 years as co-host of the fourth hour of the Today show on NBC, Gifford bid farewell to the morning show on Friday. The emotional hour saw farewell-fizz cocktails (natch), surprise guests, — Barry Manilow!! — and a whole lot of reminiscing. Asked by co-anchor Hoda Kotb what she thought had made the show such a success for over a decade, Gifford sited her real friendship with Kotb as well as respecting their audience. Kotb said it was all down to Gifford.

Gifford announced back in December 2018 that she would be leaving Today in April to pursue other projects and live closer to her two children on the west coast. Former First Daughter and sometimes guest co-anchor Jenna Bush Hager will replace her.

Of course, Gifford’s last hour was crammed full of memorable moments: Her son Cody Gifford was present in the audience as well as former Today producer Jim Bell who spearheaded the fourth hour back in April 2008, NBC News head Noah Noah Oppenheim and lots of old friends. Barry Manilow also stopped by to perform “Can’t Smile Without You” — Gifford joined in to make it a duet — and Gifford’s former Regis and Kathie Lee co-host Regis Philbin filmed a special video message for his dear friend. “It was the best part of my TV life, 1985-2000,” he said. “We stayed friends the entire time. I know You are going to be moving onto a great new career in movies… and you’re going to be a great success. I will always remember the great times we had working together and how you are as a person: just great.”


There were even more surprises when John Cena appeared to host a “Kathie Lee and Hoda Trivia Showdown” which asked questions like, how many glasses of wine have been served on the show over the past 11 years. The answer? 5,3000 glasses. Then masked members of the audience turned out to be New Amsterdam’s Ryan Eggold and none other than Superman himself, Dean Cain. The co-hosts spent the commercial breaks greeting and hugging audience members.

In case the tears weren’t already flowing, Gifford’s children Cody and Cassidy recorded a video message in which they celebrated their mother’s “heart and kindness” and shared how she taught them to go out and earn what’s given to you in life, and always be the kindest and hardest working person in room because your time is never more valuable than anyone’s else. Her son also imparted the advice his mother has always championed: “Find something you love to do and find a way to get paid for it.”

While champagne was served, Today show crew members joined Gifford and Kotb on stage. Gifford then raised her last glass and shared her parting words. “I have 30 seconds to say what it’s taken me a lifetime to say,” she said through tears. “Jeremiah 29 says: ‘I know plans I have for 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 you, like he wants to love you, like I’m loved by all of you. Thank you.”

Cheers, Kathie Lee!

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With additional reporting by Tim Stack. 

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