Kathie Lee Gifford Opens Up About Her Decision to Leave 'Today'

Tonight Show Kathie Lee Gifford - Publicity - H 2019
Andrew Lipovsky/NBC

Kathie Lee Gifford spoke about why she decided to leave Today when she stopped by The Tonight Show on Tuesday.

With only three more episodes left on the morning show, Gifford said she gave her notice two years ago. She added that her husband Frank Gifford's death in 2015 influenced her decision to leave the NBC morning show.

"After my husband passed, you really realize that you're gonna run out of time. He didn't know that morning he was running out of time," she said. "And then my mom passed, as well."

She continued, "I realized just recently that I'm in a state where I never dreamed I'd be. I'm a widow, I'm an orphan and I'm an empty nester and that just hit me like a ton of bricks. For the first time in my life, I have the time and the means to go and do anything I want to do."

Gifford added that the present felt like the perfect time for her to pursue a career in film. She said that she'd dreamed of being a movie star since she was young and even wrote Walt Disney a letter that said, "I know you love Annette Funicello. I know you love Hayley Mills, but you really need to meet me." Gifford revealed that she received a letter from Disney, though she didn't know at the time that the note was generic.

"That's always been that dream in me to do movies, so I wrote a movie last year. We're looking for the right distributor right now," she said about the project, which she wrote for her friend Craig Ferguson. "We shot it in Scotland. We want to do four more based on the same characters."

In addition to writing and acting, Gifford recently directed her first short film.

"I'm just having the time of my life," she said. "I don't want to be the one using my senior discount to go see a movie. I want to make the movie that the seniors are using their discount to come and see."

After more than 10 years co-hosting the fourth hour of the NBC morning show, Gifford officially signs off Today on Friday.

Later in her Tonight Show appearance, Gifford spoke about her chemistry with co-anchor Hoda Kotb. She said that while the two are now able to talk about anything, their connection "took a while."

The show's producer Jim Bell persuaded Gifford to meet Kotb for lunch before they began to work together. "We had a lovely five-hour lunch," she said. "They made us leave the Rainbow Room because they were getting ready for dinner."

Gifford said that while the lunch went well, she was reluctant to return to television after the success of Live With Regis and Kathie Lee.

"So I came for a year. I fell in love with my Egyptian goddess and then I stayed another year because I was starting to fall in love with the people over there. They're just so amazing," she said. "And it's 11 years later. It's literally time. I have so many things that I'm working on."

Gifford added that since she chose to leaveToday, she bought a home in Nashville. She said that she co-wrote music for the movie Then You Came when she first relocated. While talking about her life in Nashville, she explained that she was given a necessary break from New York.

"I was there during the election. Nobody was even talking about it," she said about the city in Tennessee. "It's just become so mean-spirited, this part of our country. I don't understand why we can't talk to one another anymore respectfully and with decency and care."