Kathie Lee Gifford Celebrated in Her Final Episode of 'Today'
John Cena and Barry Manilow were some of the surprise guests on the host's final episode to celebrate her 11 years on the NBC morning show.
Friday marked Kathie Lee Gifford's final day at Today.
After a week of on-air goodbyes and tributes, her final episode kicked off with a surprise performance by Flo Rida, and the co-host was greeted by friends and family when she walked onto the stage.
Gifford and co-host Hoda Kotb began their first segment by discussing why their portion of Today has succeeded over the years. "We have fun and we have a friendship and it's real and we have a great love and affection and respect for our audience," said Gifford. "We know you guys are sick of bad news by the time you turn on our show in the morning."
Kotb credited Gifford for the success of the show. "Two shows have worked really well in the history of daytime television. Regis and Kathie Lee and Kathie Lee and me," she said. "What's the common denominator?"
Shortly after, Gifford received a message from her former co-host of 15 years, Regis Philbin. "We stayed friends through the entire game and it was a lot of fun. Where you are right now, I know you're gonna be moving on to a great new career making movies. And since I've seen the first one, I know you're gonna be a great success," he said. "I want you to know how I will always remember the great times that we had working together and how you are as a person. Just great."
Gifford and Kotb took a walk down memory lane as they played a trivia game about their show, which was hosted by John Cena. The wrestler and actor asked the friends questions, including how many glasses of wine have been consumed on the show over the years and which celebrity has never made an appearance.
After Gifford was announced as the winner of the game, Cena took a moment to thank her for her years on the show. "I'm so, so very grateful for you. I tell you ladies all the time: You always make me feel so inclusive [sic] when you don't have to," he said. "You have made my time here special. You're a very special person. You have awesome energy."
Al Roker took over as the host of the next game called "The Masked Audience." In the Masked Singer-inspired game, Roker read clues about mystery audience members who were disguised as animals. The first guest, dressed as a fox, was revealed to be Dean Cain. After Gifford correctly guessed his identity, he made his way to the stage to hand her flowers. Ryan Eggold was the second mystery guest, who also gave her flowers. "I'm gonna have a hell of a bouquet when I'm done," she joked.
Gifford was able to guess that the third mystery audience member was Barry Manilow based on his profile. After being revealed, the singer performed "Can't Smile With You" for Gifford and the audience. The host eventually joined Manilow on stage to perform the second half of the song.
Gifford's son, Cody, was in attendance for the taping and he was joined by his sister, Cassidy, in a pre-recorded clip in honor of their mother. "To you, mom is a TV legend. To us, she is a legendary mom," he said in the clip.
The children reflected on their "kind, generous, giving, wonderfully talented" mother, who raised them out of the spotlight. "The best qualities that my mom has, and the ones I've looked up to my whole life: her heart, her kindness is something that she leads with," said Cassidy. "She's one of the kindest people on the planet."
The two also spoke about their father, Frank Gifford, who passed away in 2015. Cassidy shared that her father would always point out how pretty Gifford was when they watched Today together. "Then he always used to say, 'You know, there's no one else like her.' And he said, 'Who knows if there ever will be,'" she recalled. "There's so many talented people out there, but there's something about my mom that resonates with so many people and has for so long, which is why she's still kicking butt and doing what she's doing."
Cody added that Kotb added a "spark" into the family's life. "I think there are friends and then there are friends like Hoda," said Cassidy. "She sets the benchmark pretty high of what it means to be a real through-and-through friend."
The episode concluded with Gifford and Kotb welcoming the staff of Today onstage. Each employee was handed a glass of champagne before Gifford addressed the audience one final time.
"I have 30 seconds to say what has taken me a lifetime to say. Jeremiah 29 says, 'I know the plans I have you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope,'" she said. "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 am loved by all of you."
In addition to Friday's farewell episode, the morning show dedicated the entire week to Gifford. On Thursday, she recreated her first moment on the show 11 years earlier as Kotb introduced her to the viewers. Similar to her original entrance over a decade ago, Gifford walked on a carpet and waved to the cheering audience members.
Gifford wore the same yellow coat from original episode, while Kotb was also dressed in the same red coat she sported many years ago. The two embraced in a hug before Gifford joked, "I've had so much work done."
In another clip from Thursday's episode, Gifford and Kotb separately reflected on their bond as co-workers and friends.
"I was just sitting in Kathie Lee's dressing room and we were talking and I was looking at pictures of she and I that are all over her dressing room and I literally almost started crying," shared Kotb.
"There are some people who are bigger than life. They're just big personalities. They come barreling through the door," Kotb later said. "She totally jumped into my life in a way that I had never experienced before and I was transfixed by her when I first met her."
Gifford shared similar sentiments about Kotb. "I never dreamed that I could get another best type of friend at my age and with already so many other people already taking up the pie," she said. "She just fills such a huge part of my heart now."