Kathie Lee Gifford was having a blast this morning, March 26, sandwiched between her best broadcasting buddy, Hoda Kotb, and the funny man from “The Soup,” Joel McHale. The comedian has made entertainment hay for years from the hijinks and heartfelt moments between ladies through their 11 years on “Today.” As Kathie Lee Gifford celebrates the last two weeks as the fourth-hour co-host, she has been honored to choose special audience members and memorable guest hosts through the years.

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Joel McHale came out already pushing broadcast boundaries, bringing out a bottle of scotch to accentuate the morning wine that was already waiting. That spirit was a bit too strong for Kathie Lee Gifford at this early hour, but she joyfully played along. Beverages were a big part of the montage of Mchale’s past visits, as he pulled out bottles from a bag and teased about Today’s “12th hour of television.” McHale also saw his Netflix show canceled.

Those memories were all good fun, but for her cover feature in AARP Magazine, Kathie Lee Gifford talked as never before about the loneliness that she relates as “crippling,” and how her creative projects have come to fulfill her own girlhood dreams. She described why now is the time for her move and for artistic and personal missions with purpose.

Joel McHale toasts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb with something harder on 'Today.' - [TODAY / YouTube screencap]
Joel McHale toasts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb with something harder on 'Today.' - [TODAY / YouTube screencap]

The sunsets became different

“If you're not careful, what you've lost in life can define you” asserts the show business veteran. “It's so much better to be defined by what you still have-- it's healthier.” Kathie Lee makes a habit of being very self-effacing about being in her senior years, but confronting the reality of being a widow following the passing of Frank Gifford in 2017, an orphan (since the passing of her mother), and an empty nester all at once became nearly consuming.

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A Gifford family tradition was to always honor the day by observing the sunset, regardless of what business or personal activity engaged the family. The “sunset alert” would summon the Connecticut household together for a daily time of communion, gratitude, and reflection. The host reflected on how she still observes the sunset with her faithful dogs, but the feeling is completely different.

“I had to make a move someplace physically,” insisted Kathie Lee. She further stressed that the “emotional moves” and “spiritual moves” have meant survival and starting a whole new creative and personal renaissance.

“You gotta make new memories or the old ones are going to kill you.” Gifford has been making her share of new memories in Nashville.

Her darkest days came last year, and the circle of friends, including Kotb, and her children, Cassidy, 25, and Cody, 29, kept the deeply personal situation confidential as they steadfastly stayed at her side. Kathie Lee has explored starting life and love again on film with “Then Came You,” starring another favorite friend, Craig Ferguson.

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Ferguson was her muse in creating the script, and just as naturally, composer Brett James became her collaborator for the music. Both have been encouragers for Gifford’s launch into her next chapter of life. She is not closing the door on still finding the greatest love of her life in her years to come.

Gifford had a grand time in her first role as a director. She worked on the theatrical interpretation of her musical project with Christian artist, Nicole C Mullen, in Israel last week.

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Another contest challenge

Joel McHale made the most of his play on the “McHale or McFail” game challenge for the morning. He made sure to tell fans that he loved Kathie Lee's music, saying “I have her albums,” early in his stint before he made a booty-shake out of one of Gifford’s cheery ballads. Hoda Kotb was up for the basketball-spinning dare that the comedian drew out of a basket, but McHale was hundreds of twirls ahead by the time Hoda got her ball going. The hosts always score high in chemistry, but contests are never their best showcase.

None the worse for wear, all three pals closed the hour in a three-way bear-hug with grins. More good friends are sure to turn up for Kathie Lee Gifford over her last mornings on “Today.” They will salute the history, the heart, and the often unspoken strength of the lady known for laughing through tears.

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