Kathie Lee Gifford says she held in her tears at Regis Philbin's final "LIVE! with Regis and Kelly" show until "the cast of 'Rent' started singing."
Gifford served as Philbin's co-host on the series, then called "LIVE! with Regis and Kathie Lee," for 15 years before leaving in 2000. She now serves as a host on NBC's "Today" show.
Gifford, 58, was one of several celebrities who sat in the audience at the taping of Philbin's final regular appearance on the ABC daytime talk program on Friday, November 18. The 80-year-old has hosted the show for more than 28 years.
Performers from the hit musical Rent sang the group ballad "Seasons of Love," with different lyrics set to pay tribute to Philbin, during the episode. The original track is about HIV-positive and AIDS patients reflecting on the last year, or "525,600 minutes" of their lives.
"It was a very, very special hour. Gifford said on the "Today" show. "I had a box of Kleenex sitting on my lap, just in case. Nobody else came prepared either, because somebody gave me that box of Kleenex but everybody was coming over ... expecting, basically, to fall apart."
"I didn't cry until the cast from 'Rent' started singing that iconic song, but they changed the lyrics for Regis and made it very personal for him," Gifford said. "That's when Kelly (Ripa) lost it. I think it really was a sweet moment for Regis."
Gifford, like current "LIVE!" co-host Kelly Ripa, often bantered with Philbin on the air. Gifford appeared on "LIVE!" earlier this week and he asked her directly: "It's perfectly human to experience some sexual tension when you work with someone over the years. Honest to God, did it ever happen to you?" "No," she said, after which she, Philbin and Ripa burst out laughing.
"So much of my life history is wrapped up in Regis' life," Gifford said on the "Today" show on Friday.
She made her comments in an interview that aired from inside a car. She said she was heading back to the "Today" show's studio. Both talk programs are filmed in New York City.
"We're on Broadway and 48th St.," Gifford told her co-host, Hoda Kotb, who was then seen holding two glasses filled with what appeared to be wine.
"That's the clinking of glasses waiting for you to get here," Kotb said.
She was then filmed running outside the building with a microphone in her hand to meet Gifford, who then ran down the sidewalk to greet her.
Philbin said he did not shed tears himself during the episode, which also featured members of his family and words of praise from Ripa, who said her life "forever changed" when she joined the program more than a decade ago.
"It was very moving and I think well done," Philbin told WABC Television, which produces "LIVE!," after filming the episode. "We just sat back and enjoyed the whole thing - it brought back a lot of memories for us. (Tears) didn't start to flow but I did get choked up because it was very touching, what she was saying."
"That was really unnerving and kind of emotional for me," he added. "I wouldn't recognize people until I saw their face because there's a whole mass out there. But that ... was an extraordinary way to end the show. All these people who have been part of our lives all these years and my family as well, my two daughters and Joy."
Check out Kathie Lee Gifford's interview with her current "Today" co-host Hoda Kotb, talking about her appearance on Regis Philbin's final "LIVE!" taping as well as her "mad dash" to the NBC studios.