They say it ain’t over till the fat lady — or make that Regis — sings.
Regis Philbin’s personalized rendition of “Thanks for the Memories” brought tears to Kathie Lee Gifford’s eyes Friday during her farewell performance on ABC’s Live with Regis & Kathie Lee.
All the hairdos, costumes and goofy antics from 15 years of this morning show duo were recalled during the broadcast. And Gifford, who has said she is leaving the show to pursue more acting and singing opportunities, said she knows exactly what she will do next.
“We are eating crabs and drinking beers all weekend!” she shouted to her parents, who were in the audience along with her husband, Frank Gifford, and children Cody and Cassidy.
About 40 fans gathered outside the studio hoping to give flowers and balloons to Gifford. Cynthia Haskins of Philadelphia said television will never be the same again. “She’s [been] there every morning.”
Kathie Lee Day Gifford’s final episode featured taped testimonials from celebrities including David Letterman, Rosie O’Donnell and All My Children star Susan Lucci, with time for just one live guest — Disney CEO Michael Eisner. (Disney is the parent company of ABC.)
Eisner presented Gifford with a special Mouster award and put in a plea for a repeat of the Kathie Lee farewell. “The ratings have been so unbelievable this week, can’t you do it again?”
Not to be upstaged, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani sent in an official proclamation declaring July 28 Kathie Lee Gifford Day.
Gifford’s children gave her a pancake cookbook and the necessary ingredients to start making them breakfast now that she’ll be around before they go to school.
To make sure she’s prepared for her morning coffee off the air, the show’s crew gave her a silver coffee cup. Gifford said she’s ready to enjoy her mornings at home, “[I will] sit home with Frank and sip coffee and watch [Regis] and the next bimbo that sits here.”
Frank Gifford told ABCNEWS.com he has one word to describe the big day: “Relief.”
“She’s been ready to leave for a long time, [she has] so many other things to do,” he said.
The usually sarcastic Philbin also offered his share of compliments to his leading lady. When she asked how come he looks so much better than 15 years ago, he replied, “You, it’s all you.”
Ready for New Challenges
Gifford’s departure from Live takes one of television’s outsized personalities off the air. Her loopy histrionics and gushing tales of her kids invited ridicule, but the sprightly entertainer was also a favorite with legions of fans.
“We love Kathie Lee and we’re going to miss her very much,” audience member Sharon Zelen of Commack, N.Y., told ABCNEWS Radio during Wednesday’s broadcast. “For 15 years she’s helped us get up in the morning and get the kids off to school.”
Gifford’s personal battles — the public humiliation of her husband’s tabloid-fueled affair and attacks on alleged labor abuses connected to her clothing line — won her some sympathetic support.
Gifford says she decided it was time to leave the morning show after subbing for David Letterman last winter. Her guest-host performance was well-received. Earlier this year, she received good reviews for a fill-in role in the Broadway production Putting It Together. She wanted to do more acting and singing, but the demands of a one-hour live show each weekday had held her back.
She’s already at work on an album due to be released in October, and her fans are certain Gifford’s new endeavors will be a success.
“She needs no help from anybody,” says New Jersey resident Deborah Kerr Grant, who also attended Wednesday’s broadcast. “Regis, he’s another story.”
Live With Regis and ?
Regis himself is facing a tough couple of months. He is taping four prime-time episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire each week. And he must cope with the parade of women looking to be his new on-air partner.
No decision on a replacement for Gifford has been made yet. With her exit, the show will be renamed — at least temporarily — Live with Regis.
Producers are turning the selection of a replacement into sport, bringing in women for on-air tryouts with Philbin. The process, an ideal attention-getting device, could take several more months. USA Today this week pictured 22 potential candidates — including Cybill Shepherd, Joan Lunden, Joan Rivers, Cindy Crawford and Darva Conger — and asked readers to vote on their favorite.
“This list is hundreds long,” said Michael Gelman, the show’s executive producer. He said he looks at about 30 tapes a day.
Philbin’s wife, Joy, has filled in for Gifford frequently and will be in the chair on Monday.
Gifford said after her last broadcast that she will miss “sharing our lives together” with Philbin on the show. But they can still share off-air. “He does literally live around the corner from me,” she said. “If he needs to borrow money, he knows where he can find me.”
ABCNEWS.com’s Nancy Chandross, ABCNEWS Radio’s Bill Diehl and The Associated Press contributed to this report.