The real reason why Kathie Lee is leaving the Today show

It's official, folks. On Tuesday, December 11, 2018, Kathie Lee Gifford announced her decision to leave NBC's Today. After hosting the show's fourth hour for over a decade, she's decided it was finally time to say goodbye.

"When we first launched this incredible hour, no one could have predicted the lightning (or rather, wine) in a bottle that is Hoda & Kathie Lee," NBC News president Noah Oppenheim wrote in a memo to the network's staffers obtained by Fox News. The president continued, saying, "During that time, Kathie Lee has cemented her status as one of the most enduring and endearing talents in morning television. In short — she is a legend." No, you're crying! 

Of course, we can't mention Gifford's unprecedented decision to leave Today without explaining why. At 65 years old, did she decide to retire from working? Was she ready to kick up her feet and relax? Well, not exactly. Here are the real details and reasons why Gifford decided to call it quits with the network.

Kathie Lee Gifford's exit was announced in an email

When Kathie Lee Gifford decided it was time to walk away from her hosting duties, NBC News president Noah Oppenheim broke the news to the staffers in an email. "In 2008, I joined the 'Today Show' family intending to spend one year," Gifford told Oppenheim, according to the memo (via Page Six). "But something unexpected happened along the way: I fell in love with a beautiful, talented, extraordinary Egyptian goddess named Hoda [Kotb], and an amazing group of individuals who work tirelessly and joyfully at their jobs, many of them starting at midnight, creating an unprecedented four hours of live television."

Gifford went on to thank everyone for making her nearly 11 years on the show "fly by" as well as the fans who tuned in to watch the daily show. By way of the memo, NBC revealed that Gifford's last day would be April 7, 2019 — her 11th anniversary with Today.

Why would Kathie Lee Gifford leave after "120 years" in the biz?

After the president of NBC News informed staff of Kathie Lee Gifford's departure, the host revealed the big news to the masses herself. Sitting beside cohost Hoda Kotb on Today, Gifford announced her plans to leave on her 11th work anniversary. "I've been in this business 120 years," Gifford joked, "and I've never worked with a more beautiful group of people that just give, give, give everyday…" 

Both Gifford and Kotb exchanged a few laughs, and even more tears, from the NBC stage "I can't believe that you're saying — like, I cannot believe this is — we're on TV and this is happening," Kotb said in disbelief. Throughout Gifford's heartwarming and tearjerking announcement, she talked about the importance of having each others' backs and listened to Kotb's memories of working beside her on the show for so many years. However, the beloved television host didn't actually reveal why she decided to leave the show.

A feud between cohosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb?

Is it possible that Kathie Lee Gifford made the decision to leave Today because of a feud with her cohost? Given their public adulation for each other and recent history, this seems very unlikely. In early January 2018, a little over a month after Matt Lauer was fired by NBC, Hoda Kotb was announced as his replacement. The day after the big news was revealed, however, fans couldn't help but notice that Gifford was absent from the show. Was she upset about Kotb's promotion? That's what many speculated, but Gifford put these rumors to rest when she returned to work the following day.

"Stop it, people! Right now. Get a life," she said on the show (via Entertainment Tonight). "I'm thrilled for my friend Hoda — thrilled!" Kotb told Entertainment Tonight that Gifford let her know she was going to address the rumors on air and reassured her cohost. "She goes, 'I'm not jealous of you! I love you!'" Kotb revealed. 

Kathie Lee Gifford was ready to leave the show for years

Although Kathie Lee Gifford exited Today in spring 2019, she was ready to say goodbye years earlier. In an interview with E! News in 2017, Gifford revealed that she "was ready to leave" the show back when her husband was still alive — he passed away in 2015. At the time, her daughter was a high school student and her son had just gone off to college. Gifford divulged that "it just seemed like a good time to just keep things sort of, you know, day by day."

She even admitted that she used to only sign one-year contracts and take her "family's temperature every year" to determine whether or not it would be a good time to leave the show and move onto something else. Fans of Gifford and the show are no doubt thankful that the television host stuck it out for over a decade.

Kathie Lee Gifford's "real, genuine" friendship with Hoda Kotb

One reason Kathie Lee Gifford decided to stay at Today for as long as she did was all thanks to her cohost. Gifford divulged to E! News in May 2017 just how close she and Kotb became over the years and sweetly said how their time together had her "falling in love" with her cohost. The television host said that while the two didn't have on-screen chemistry in their first year together, she and Kotb became "real, genuine friends" after spending time with each other's families, getting together for lunch and Broadway plays, and just generally being involved in each other's lives.

Gifford went on to explain, saying, "Honestly, that's the reason I've stayed nine years because by the time I was ready to leave, I was in love with Hoda and in love with so many of the people I work with here." Friend goals, for real.

Kathie Lee Gifford's shifting focus

Throughout Kathie Lee Gifford's career, she's penned four New York Times bestselling books, which include three memoirs and even a children's book. One of her bestsellers, published in 2018, centered around Gifford's faith. Harper Collins Publisher labeled the book "an examination of a decades-long desire to know more and understand more than the typical 'Sunday School' teaching so prevalent in our churches today." Much of the book focuses on the journey Gifford and her husband took to Israel in 2012. In an interview with Today, Gifford credits that journey with helping her husband not to fear dying when his health began to fail. 

Although Gifford didn't list off her plans for the future on Today, NBC president Noah Oppenheim's memo to staffers (via People) revealed that Gifford decided to "focus her attention full-time on… other creative endeavors" — including "book projects." That's right, you can expect even more books by Gifford in the future.

Kathie Lee Gifford's budding career in music

In October 2017, Kathie Lee Gifford released the single "He Saw Jesus" — a song about her late husband. Gifford cowrote the song with singer-songwriter Brett James, but revealed on Today that she initially didn't plan to sing the song. "I've had some damage to my vocal cords because of pneumonia years ago and I didn't get antibiotics in time and I don't have the breath control I once did," she explained. Still, James convinced her to record the demo, saying that "only Kathie Lee could sing this song."

Less than a year later, Gifford released another single, "Once Again," as well as a music video. In an interview, Gifford revealed that she'd actually written the song shortly after recording "He Saw Jesus." When James took a peek at her lyrics, he loved it and wanted it to be the next song they worked on together. And, so it was. If you're a fan of Gifford's music, you'll be pleased to know that she's going to stick with it.

Kathie Lee Gifford's "passion project"

Kathie Lee Gifford may have stepped away from the small screen in 2019, but NBC News president Noah Oppenheim confirmed in his memo (via People) that Gifford would focus more of her attention on the big screen, noting that "Kathie Lee's plate has been overflowing lately with film." 

In July 2018, Gifford wrote, produced, and starred opposite Craig Ferguson in what Today called a "passion project": the film Love Me To Death. "This is a romantic comedy for people who have given up hope that anything will ever happen for them again in their life," Gifford told Today. Gifford also revealed that this film all began when Ferguson cohosted the fourth hour of Today with her — which might just mean we have Ferguson to blame for taking away one of our favorite television hosts. Regardless, we look forward to seeing the other films Gifford surely has up her sleeve.

The show must go on without Kathie Lee Gifford

After Kathie Lee Gifford revealed her departure to Today audiences, the show took to Twitter to share a clip of the announcement. While many fans were sad to learn that the woman dubbed "KLG" was leaving, others started considering potential replacements. "You will be missed but I hope [Jenna Bush Hager] will be in your seat," one tweet read. Others chimed in to agree. "Thank you for all the laughs, tears, and so much joy," one Twitter user shared, "No one can ever replace you but if I had a voice I would love to see [Hager] sitting next to [Hoda Kotb]."

While there had been no official word on just who the network would end up choosing to fill Kathie Lee Gifford's shoes at the time (spoiler: former first kid Jenna Bush Hager took Gifford's spot), NBC News president Noah Oppenheim made sure to confirm (via HuffPost) that the fourth hour of Today would indeed go on and would "continue to include Hoda." A silver lining for fans, that's for sure.