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End of an era: Kathie Lee Gifford says goodbye to "Today" show

She's probably one of the only people who can drink alcohol on live TV at 10:00 a.m., but after 11 years of sipping white wine next to Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford is bidding the "Today" show goodbye. Tributes for the popular host have been pouring in since December, when NBC announced she had decided to leave the program.

On Thursday's show, Gifford and her partner-in-crime, Kotb, looked back on their years together. "She totally jumped into my life in a way that I had never experienced before," Kotb said in a video montage of the hosts' 11 years together. "She stepped into it, and I was transfixed by her ... I don't know if you've ever had that chemistry where you connect with someone like that. I had it, and it was a feeling I'd never had before — that kind of intensity."

The fourth hour of "Today" has been filled with "cheers to Kathie Lee" all week. Actress Jane Krakowski surprised the hosts on set, singer Nicole C. Mullen serenaded them, and Kristen Chenoweth performed Gifford's song, "Everyone Has a Story." Several celebrity friends recorded laudatory messages. From Andy Cohen to Kourtney Kardashian, stars came out in force to show support for Gifford.

"You just make me so happy," said comedian Ken Jeong, who has appeared as a guest and co-host on the show before. 

"Kathie Lee, you're an icon, you're a legend, but most importantly to me, you're my friend," Maria Shriver said.

"I know we joke around a lot, but the truth is this: This is a sad day," Craig Ferguson said. "You're a great treasure to American broadcasting, and you will be sadly missed." Gifford and Ferguson recently starred together in the movie "Then Came You." Gifford also wrote the film.

When NBC announced Gifford would be leaving, network executives said it was because she wanted to focus on other projects. "As we all know, Kathie Lee's plate has been overflowing lately with film, music and book projects, and after giving us eleven extraordinary years, she's decided to focus her attention full-time on those other creative endeavors," NBC News president Noah Oppenheim wrote in a memo.

The 65-year-old Gifford has had a long career in show business. She was the first woman to guest host the "Late Show with David Letterman," according to her bio. She was a correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America," and then stayed at the network to co-host "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee." She hosted the talk show alongside Regis Philbin for 15 years and recieved 11 Emmy nominations.

She has also acted in several TV shows and movies. Aside from her on-camera talent, Gifford has held roles behind the scenes as a writer and producer. She is also passionate about music and has written and starred in several musicals, and started her own record label, Lamb Records.

Kristen Wiig played a wine-chugging Kathie Lee on "Saturday Night Live," playing off the fact that both hosts keep a glass of wine with them on set. Gifford turned her wine hobby into a career move when she created the company Gifft Wines in 2014.

The star also serves as a spokesperson Childhelp and is involved with several other charities, such as the Association to Benefit Children.

Over the past four decades on TV, Gifford has shared herself with the world. She opened up about the death of her husband, Frank Gifford, on "Today" in 2015. Gifford thanked Kotb for her support after the death of her mother in 2017. And she also celebrated when Kotb announced she had adopted a baby girl.

It's not just Gifford's "Today" co-hosts preparing to say goodbye on Friday; fans have been using the hashtag #cheerstoKLG to share messages of thanks. Many fans are posting videos and photos of themselves drinking wine and toasting to Gifford – the perfect way to send her off. 

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