THE TV HOST SAYS IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO CHANGE YOUR DIRECTION AND CHASE YOUR DREAMS
Today co-host Kathie Lee Gifford proves it’s never too late to start over and follow your dreams.
Kathie Lee Gifford grew teary-eyed as she gave an emotional thank-you speech during Today ’s Christmas lunch at Blackbarn restaurant in Manhattan. Telling the crowd, which included co-hosts like Al Roker and Savannah Guthrie, that she felt “blessed” to have worked with them, she called out a special tribute to her fourth-hour pal Hoda Kotb. “Hoda-mama,” she gushed. “I will love her until the day I die — which could be at any minute now.”
Her joke drew a big laugh from the cast and crew — but don’t count this show business veteran out yet. At 65, vivacious Kathie Lee is just getting started on the next chapter in her career and life. “It’s an exciting time for me, and I’m thrilled about all of the projects that are coming up,” she says. “But it’s also hard, because I love everybody here so much.”
Though she’s made hosting feel-good television look easy since she debuted on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee in 1988, the TV star had been considering departing Today, which she joined in 2008, for quite some time. “Everyone knew that she wanted to leave for at least two or three years, longer even,” says a show insider. “She stayed because of her love for Hoda and for the crew.” A day after her announcement, Kathie Lee appeared at ease with her big decision. “I feel so relieved,” she said on the air. “I’ve known it was coming for a long, long time.”
THE REASON SHE QUIT
Kathie Lee, who celebrated her 10th anniversary on air with Hoda in April, had intended to retire from Today in 2017, but Matt Lauer’s sudden departure that year due to a sex scandal made the network brass plead with Kathie Lee to stay.
She agreed, but the turmoil at Today only made her more determined to quit the show. “What she calls ‘the messy Megyn [Kelly] and Matt year’ really soured her,” says the insider, who explains that Kathie Lee was upset by all the vicious gossip and backroom dealing that went on in the wake of the firings. “Matt was no angel, but the scramble to get his job — it was pretty nasty. Kathie Lee found the lack of loyalty appalling.”
The star saw a similarly cutthroat atmosphere emerge after the network can-
“I leave Today with a grateful heart.”
— Kathie Lee
celed Megyn Kelly Today in October. “One minute you’re a star and the next minute you’re the hot topic at the water cooler,” says the insider, who notes that the behind-thescenes race to become the person to replace Megyn grew particularly ugly. “Some of the people she worked with seemed to change right before her eyes. Kathie Lee is not going to miss any of that.”
It’s not just office politics that made her quit. Kathie Lee lost her beloved husband, Frank Gifford, in 2015 and last year her mother, Joan Epstein, passed away. Her children, Cody, 28, and Cassidy, 25, are grown now and leading their own lives. “She wants to now, at this point in her life, be responsible only for herself, not her family or Today,” says the insider. “This is a pivotal time for her.”
Though she misses being a part of a large chaotic household, she finds her new freedom to do what she pleases more exhilarating than frightening. Kathie Lee knows it’s her moment to follow her dreams. “All these other projects have been bubbling up and it’s so exciting,” she gushes. “Movies and music and so many wonderful things.”
Her courage to start over has a lot to do with her ironclad faith in God and destiny. “She believes 100 percent in Jesus Christ, so nerves have never been a part of Kathie Lee’s character,” says the insider. Her late husband, Frank, also inspired her to believe in herself. “Frank encouraged her, while he was here and well, to do what was in her heart,” explains the insider. “And Kathie Lee is an artist in her heart.”
In this new chapter of her life, Kathie Lee has resolved to “put some good into the world” as actor and philanthropist Paul Newman did. “I learned from him and from Audrey Hepburn, the greatest examples of how a person can be blessed to have a career that the world notices, but at the same time, you understand it’s not about you,” Kathie Lee confides. “It’s for a purpose. So, I just emulated people like that. I thought, That’s the person I want to be.”
To that end, many of Kathie Lee’s future
“I’ve always tried to be an authentic person.”
— Kathie Lee
projects will be based in her Christian beliefs. “She wants a shot at having a successful faith-based musical on Broadway,” says the insider. “She loves doing TV cameos, and wants to do faith-based indie films — to act, write, produce and even direct!” The performer, who has released 14 albums since 1992, hopes to get back into the recording studio, too. “A new Christmas CD could be ahead for her,” says the insider.
Kathie Lee has told close friends that she’s finally ready for new love, too. “She has men in her life, platonic friends that she has dinner with but nothing serious — although she is open to it,” reveals the insider, who says that Hoda is constantly on the lookout for suitable men to set up with her friend. “Kathie Lee is looking for a man with the unique qualities that Frank had: faith, strength and kindness,” says the insider.
KISS TODAY GOODBYE
Saying farewell to Hoda, who has become far more than a co-host, will be the hardest part for Kathie Lee, who admits that she never expected to make such an emotional connection at work. “I did not want to come back to television. I was going to do it for one year,” she says. “But you start sharing your life and you fall in love with this person.” The star’s favorite memories with Hoda on Today include “the naked show” — where the hosts appeared to do an episode without clothes — their onair girl talk, their many road trips and, of course, toasting each other with a glass of wine every episode. “You become genuine friends,” Kathie Lee says.
She will remain on the show through her 11th anniversary on April 7, allowing ample opportunity for Hoda, as well as fans and friends, to say goodbye and celebrate her storied TV career. Kathie Lee gushes that she made “a million memories with people I will never forget…but I’m truly excited for this new creative season in my life.”
“Many thanks to all the people who made the years fly by.”
— Kathie Lee
“Nobody was more surprised than I was when we fell in love,” she says of Frank, whowas 23 years older.