Running arm in arm with her fellow anchors through a roaring, clapping crowd on Rockefeller Plaza to the tune of Journey’s arena anthem “Don’t Stop Believin,’ ’’ Meredith Vieira was overcome with emotion as her final day as co-anchor of TODAY reached a crescendo on Wednesday morning.
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The “Glee”-like production number included the entire TODAY staff, both on-camera talent and the people behind the scenes. Even late-night host Jimmy Fallon was on hand, shredding on a prop guitar.
“All of you I will put in my heart,’’ a clearly affected Meredith said after composing herself following the song and celebration.
Meredith’s sprint through a throng of adoring fans and co-workers, a viral video moment that soon had #goodbyemeredith as one of the top trending topics on Twitter, came after she enjoyed a touching moment with one of her favorite artists, Carole King, who played a song that Matt said Meredith once played 30 times in a row upon graduating from high school. The legendary King then played “You’ve Got a Friend,’’ which was indicative of the feelings of the staff as well as of King herself.
“We are going to miss you,’’ King said. “It’s been so amazing having you in our lives on a daily basis. Thank you for so many great memories.’’
The anchors held hands on the couch before joining King around the piano and singing along.Meredith says last 'good morning' on TODAY
The special send-off episode for Meredith included a message from actor Jack Black. He said he wrote a song for the occasion, then jokingly sang the first line of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.’’ “OK, I didn’t write that, but I love you,’’ Black said.
Meredith also received special taped messages from NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and late-night host Jay Leno.allDAY: 10 reasons we love Meredith
After being celebrated by a cheering crowd outside with signs lamenting her departure, Meredith was treated to a video montage of her tenure at TODAY while surrounded by her fellow anchors.
“From the moment I came here, everybody embraced me and made me feel like I was part of this family,’’ she said in the video. “What am I going to miss most? Probably the sense of family.”
“I don’t think people realize how much pressure was on Meredith in those early days,’’ Lauer said. “She made it look easy. She made it look effortless. It was as if she had been here for 10 years.’’
The montage showed Meredith’s impressive range, illustrating her ability to do everything from celebrity interviews to hard-hitting interviews with President Barack Obama.
“She brings a piece of herself to every interview she does,’’ Matt said.
“Behind the scenes Meredith is one of the best girlfriends you could have,’’ Ann Curry commented.
“You showed us from day one when you first took over this job that it was all about you being just the way you are,’’ Natalie Morales said in tribute.
The montage also included highlights of some of Meredith’s most memorable work on TODAY, including the story of David Goldman, a father who fought to bring back his son from his ex-wife’s family in Brazil; Farrah Fawcett’s battle with cancer, and the saga of Charla Nash, disfigured by a chimpanzee attack.
It also illustrated her first big assignment, the Virginia Tech student shooting. Meredith said a candlelight vigil after the shooting was when she realized the true power of TODAY.
“These kids came up to me and said … ‘Can we please hug you?’ ’’ she said. “I realized in that moment the power of this show to really reach people, and to have that ability, I am so honored to have sat with all of you.’’
The montage also highlighted Meredith’s zany side, whether it was on a trip to Ireland with Al or dressed up and dancing as Lady Gaga on Halloween. It also referenced her many travels around the world and her love of movies, including championing the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.’’
“I’m going to miss Meredith’s sense of spirit and sense of fun,’’ Al said. “You can’t put a price on it.’’
The “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” extravaganza began with Meredith joining co-anchor Matt Lauer at a piano. Clad in an orange T-shirt worn by all the anchors, bearing their first names, a heart symbol and “Meredith,’’ Lauer grinned as the Journey song began to play.
Meredith soon was beckoned from the piano and joined Ann Curry, who took her downstairs, where she was surprised by a hug from special guest Abe Vigoda.
She was led outside by a lip-syncing Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb and passed to Al Roker, and then taken by a group of producers and staffers down to the street, where she rejoined Lauer as Fallon appeared with a guitar and the crowd roared and clapped rhythmically. The TODAY staff then broke out a choreographed dance number as an exclamation point, leaving Meredith overwhelmed.
“I adore you,’’ Matt told her. “Your sense of humor is what I will remember most. You have made me laugh every single day here, and I thank you for that. The bottom line is this — I have marveled over the fact that with someone who has talent as large as yours, how small your ego is. You have taught us to be great teammates, and that’s the gift that I will take away from you.’’
“You have changed my life and changed all of these people’s lives,’’ Al said. “I love you.’’
A crying Meredith caught her breath before joking in her usual way: “I don’t want to go now.’’
She then grew reflective about her time on America’s No. 1 morning show.
“I think life is about changing; I guess one door closes and another opens,’’ she said. “You are the best. It’s such a family and it’s really hard to leave a family, so I’m not going to say goodbye at all.’’
The lovefest continued into the fourth hour of TODAY, during which Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb continued to sport orange T-shirts saying “Wine Lovers [heart symbol] Meredith’’ as part of their weekly “Winesday Wednesday.” They reviewed the “Don’t Stop Believin’ ’’ tribute as well as a Tuesday-night party in Vieira’s honor.
TODAY says farewell to Meredith
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“It’s been a really bittersweet day for us,’’ Kathie Lee said.
“It’s been a blubberfest, let’s be honest,’’ Hoda added.
Then Meredith herself came onto the set, bearing glasses of wine for Kathie Lee and Hoda as well as one for herself. She joined the co-hosts for a segment spotlighting the best family beaches in the United States — which is just where Meredith may be putting up her feet sometime soon.
“At 2:30 in the morning tomorrow, you know what she’s going to do?” Kathie Lee cracked. “Keep sleeping!”
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