Kathie Lee Gifford says goodbye to TODAY on her last day

Kathie Lee's last day on TODAY featured plenty of laughs, hugs, champagne, and an amazing surprise for the audience.
Nathan Congleton / TODAY

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

We'll miss you, Kathie Lee!

It's the end of an era, as Kathie Lee Gifford said goodbye on Friday after 11 years on TODAY, complete with laughs, tears, hugs, champagne — and an amazing giveaway to everyone in the audience.

A live performance by Flo Rida kicked off her final episode as she entered to cheers from the crowd and hugs from both her TODAY family and her actual family, as her son, Cody, 29, was in the studio with his girlfriend.

She was decked out in a red dress, the same color she wore on her final day in 2000 with former co-host Regis Philbin during her 15-year run on the award-winning "Regis and Kathie Lee" morning show.

"I feel great,'' she said. "I have no expectations. You just want to bear it well. ... You also want to remind people of why this show worked in the beginning — because we have fun. We have a great love and affection and respect for our audience."

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Kathie Lee showed how much affection she has for the audience when she pulled an Oprah and surprised everyone in the crowd by giving them each a free four-day cruise for two on Carnival Cruise Line from any Carnival U.S. port.

Not only has Kathie Lee been affiliated with Carnival Cruise Line since doing her first commercial for the company in 1984, there also is a family connection. It turns out Cody was conceived on a trip with her late husband, Frank Gifford.

"As a matter of fact, this guy, this big 6-foot-4 guy, was made on a Carnival Cruise,'' she said about Cody.

"That's good advertising,'' Cody joked.

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Kathie Lee's son, Cody, helped his mom celebrate her on her final day.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Kathie Lee also reflected with co-host Hoda Kotb on why their partnership has worked all these years.

"I think it's because of you,'' Hoda said.

"Yeah, that's what I think,'' Kathie Lee joked.

Philbin also made an appearance with a sweet video tribute to his former co-host.

"Kathie Lee, the best part of my TV life was with the 15 years I spent with you from 1985 to 2000,'' he said. "We stayed friends through the entire game, and it was a lot of fun. Where you are right now, I know you’re going to be moving on to a great new career making movies and, since I’ve seen the first one, I know you’re going to be a great success. I really mean it!"

Kathie Lee also revealed that she received a giant flower bouquet at her home from a surprise sender — Howard Stern and his wife, Beth. The radio host had often lampooned her over the years before the two made peace.

"That man hated my guts for 30 years and I prayed for him every single day,'' she said. "And turned it around."

Adding to her joyful day, Friday also marked the release of a film she made in Israel called "The God Who Sees," which is available on her website and streaming platforms.

A succession of special guests who have made many appearances on the show over the years then surprised Kathie Lee to give her a proper send-off.

Actor and wrestling superstar John Cena, actor Dean Cain and actor Ryan Eggold all showed up in tribute to her. She was having her best day as she climbed into Cena's arms, hugged Cain and got a bouquet of flowers from Eggold.

To top it off, one of Kathie Lee's favorites, the legendary Barry Manilow, showed up for a live performance. She joined him onstage for a duet as they performed his classic "Can't Smile Without You."

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Kathie Lee then went from smiles to holding back tears after a touching video tribute from her children, Cody and daughter Cassidy, 25, followed by an emotional hug from Cody. Cassidy, who is an actress, was unable to be there in person because she is working on a TV project.

"To you, mom is a TV legend,'' Cody said in the video. "To us, she's a legendary mom."

"The best qualities that my mom has, the ones that I've looked up to in my life — her heart, her kindness — is something that she leads with,'' Cassidy said. "She is one of the kindest people on the planet."

Kathie Lee then ended her final show surrounded onstage by her TODAY family.

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As for her partner in wine, Kathie Lee and Hoda reflected on their friendship a day earlier on TODAY, talking about how they formed a close bond right from when they first started working together.

"God brought Hoda into my life for all kinds of different reasons," Kathie Lee said. "I was supposed to learn from her. She was supposed to learn from me. We were supposed to share life together."

"(Kathie Lee) totally jumped into my life in a way that I had never experienced before," Hoda said. "She stepped into it, and I was transfixed by her when we met. 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."

While Kathie Lee is saying farewell to TODAY, the two now have a bond for life.

"I hope she knows how much I love her," Kathie Lee said about Hoda. "When I love, I love with my entire being, as long as I'm here with a pulse. That's how I love, and that hurts. That kind of love hurts, but I can't imagine living one moment of my life without it."

Jenna Bush Hager will officially join Hoda as a co-host of TODAY's fourth hour on Monday.