Kathie Lee Gifford Talks Exiting 'Live' With Regis Philbin and 'Today' With Hoda Kotb (Exclusive)

Kathie Lee Gifford is opening up about her famous co-hosting gigs in a whole new way. Ahead of the publication of her upcoming book, I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste, the beloved TV host sat down with ET's Rachel Smith for an intimate interview, where she addressed her decision to leave two of TV's most popular morning shows.

"Part of it is just gut instinct, you know? I've been in this business 60 years now, so I've had a lot of failures and a lot of successes -- successes beyond my wildest dreams," Gifford tells ET. "You're sitting right now under four Emmys I never dreamed I'd receive. I'm grateful for them but, the older I get, the less that matters as well."

Gifford co-hosted Live With Regis and Kathie Lee (originally titled The Morning Show) with Regis Philbin from 1985 to 2000. The two weren't just co-workers for 15 years -- they remained extremely close friends until the iconic television personality died of natural causes in July 2020.

Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin

Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

The show was a massive hit, thanks to Philbin and Gifford's natural chemistry. A beloved part of the show became the first 15 minutes, when the two would banter not just about current events, but poke fun at one another over their personal lives, like Gifford's relationship with her husband, the late Frank Gifford, and their two kids -- son Cody and daughter Cassidy.

In 2001, Gifford left the show with Philbin remaining on Live with then-new host Kelly Ripa. Gifford moved from ABC to NBC, joining Hoda Kotb as a co-host of Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. Gifford stayed at Today for 11 years before retiring and relocating to Nashville in 2019.

"I look at [my Emmys] and I'm grateful, thank you, Lord. But my trophies are the people that I've touched in life, the people [in] both of those places," Gifford says. "I've worked 15 years with Regis, and 11 years with Hoda. The trophies we gather in life that truly matter are human, you know."

Gifford adds that "gut instinct combined with prayer" helped guide her to know the right time for her to move on from her coveted roles.

Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford

Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford

Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

"I fill my mind and my spirit with scripture so I don't have to look it up. I don't have to google it, it's in me, it's in my DNA," she declares. "And so, each time I have left, either Regis or Hoda, it's been because it was deeply prayed for and God just confirms as you go along."

The mother of two says that when people ask her how she could leave her "dream job" twice, she tells them it's their assumption that those were her dream jobs. "They weren't. There were no talk show hosts when I was dreaming as a young child growing up," she says.

It isn't the first time Gifford has said she's dreamt of more than hosting TV shows. In August 2022, she told ET her work with God is her dream job.

"So many people, when I left the show with Regis, after 15 unbelievable years with him, 11 years with Hoda, they all said, 'How could you leave your dream job? Twice at the height of its success?' and I go, 'You're just assuming that it was my dream job. They never were," Gifford explained at the time. "My dream job is what I'm doing now. Right now, at the age of 69, as of yesterday."

Kathie Lee Gifford Explains Why 'Live' and 'Today' Were Not Dream Jobs (Exclusive)

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Kathie Lee Gifford Explains Why 'Live' and 'Today' Were Not Dream Jobs (Exclusive)

She continued, "I dreamed it my whole life, and now I get to do it."

Since retiring from co-hosting, Gifford has expanded her resume with work as an actress, director, and producer. She released the film, The Way, and her companion book, The God of the Way, in 2022.

And in 2021, she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame only five stars away from that of Philbin's.

For Gifford's 70th birthday last August, Kotb gave Today audiences an update on her former co-host from Gifford's old Rockefeller Center stomping grounds in New York City.

"You know what, she is living her best life," Kotb shared on air. "When she chose to leave here and go to Nashville, she's been doing nothing but creating and making new memories. I think she's happier than she's ever been."

I Want to Matter: Your Life Is Too Short and Too Precious to Waste by Kathie Lee Gifford will be available wherever books are sold on April 30.


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