Regis Philbin, TV personality and game show host, dead at 88

AP Photo/Charles SykesRegis Philbin is seen on the set of “Live! With Regis and Kelly” a few weeks before his final episode of the show.
  • Regis Philbin has died at the age of 88.
  • He was best known for hosting “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” and then “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” and later for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.”

TV personality and talk show host Regis Philbin has died at the age of 88.

Philbin died July 24 of natural causes, according to People,who first reported the news.

“His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him – for his warmth, his legendary sense of humour, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about. We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss,” the Philbin family said in a statement to People.

For more than 20 years, Philbin was the face many households woke up to on ABC when he hosted “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” and then “Live! With Regis and Kelly.”

Millennials may recognise the enthusiastic Bronx, New York native as the host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” but for over 50 years, the Notre Dame graduate appeared on talk shows and game shows. Often referred to as the “hardest working man in show business,” Philbin holds a Guiness World Record for most hours on US Television and in 2006 he was inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame.

But the chatty host wasn’t always as confident and exuberant as he came across. Before he appeared on morning talk shows, he was an uncertain officer in the Navy trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

A push in the right direction

Regis philbin november 2011Bennett Raglin/WireImageBefore he was a TV personality, Regis Philbin wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his career.

In an interview with the Television Academy, Philbin said he wasn’t sure at a young age what he wanted to do in his life. He said he developed his interest for going into television during his time in the Navy as a supply officer, but he wasn’t the most confident go-getter at the time.

According to Philbin’s memoir, “How I Got This Way,” a major in the Marines inspired him to get into broadcasting.

“I told him, ‘What I’d like to do is go into television but I don’t know if I have any talent or what I could do,’ and he got very angry… He said, ‘Well, what do you mean? Don’t you know you can have anything you want in this life if you only want it bad enough? Do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Major, I’m not sure.’ And he boomed at me, ‘Do you want this?!’ And I snapped to and gave him a salute and said, ‘Yes, yes I want this,'” wrote Philbin, according to NPR.

The long road to “Live!”

Regis joey bishopABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty ImagesA young Regis (left) with talk show host Joey Bishop in 1967.

At the advice of his uncle, who worked in publicity for CBS, Philbin applied to be an NBC Page, an extremely competitive paid fellowship at the network that usually leads to other jobs in show business. He landed the position in 1955 and worked on the short-lived “The Eddie Fisher Show.

It was a dream internship, but after six weeks of being a page,he gave it up to go out west. Philbin received a call from Hollywood and took a job working behind the scenes on a network channel. From there, he moved around doing several different gigs in San Diego, covering sports and news stories until a rival station took interest in him and gave him the opportunity for his first talk show in 1961, “The Regis Philbin Show,” on KOGO-TV. It was a Saturday night job where he just talked about his life experiences from the previous week. He didn’t know it at the time, but it would become the foundation for his future hit show.

Philbin’s work as Joey Bishop’s sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show” for three years (1967-1969) really started to get him recognition. It was his first TV appearance on a network show. He made his mark notably on the show for a staged walk off where Philbin seemingly quit to be welcomed back about a week later. Years later, in his memoir, Philbin revealed it was a ratings stunt to steal some viewers away from Johnny Carson, and it worked.

Regis joey bishop showABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty ImagesRegis Philbin played the guy Joey got to kind of push around playfully on TV.

Philbin knew he always preferred doing live shows over taped ones early on. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on why, but here’s what he told the Television Academy about it.

“For me, it has to be live,” said Philbin of why he prefers doing live TV. “If it’s taped and they say, ‘Stop, tape,’… I just can’t live with that. If I can be live, then I can make a joke out of the ‘stop, tape’ thing. It just works better for me.”

Philbin worked on a variety of shows, including one in St. Louis for three years, a morning talk show in Chicago, another where he reviewed movies for ABC, and a morning talk show “A.M. Los Angeles” from 1975 to 1981.

Original regis philbin show 1982Paul DrinkwaterNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesZsa Zsa Gabor with Regis Philbin on his short-lived ‘The Regis Philbin Show’ on NBC in 1982 before he found a permanent home on ABC.

In 1983, after a plethora of jobs and travelling across the country, he went back to New York City to join his former “A.M. Los Angeles” co-host Cyndy Garvey on WABC-TV’s “The Morning Show.” When Garvey left the show, a woman named Kathie Lee Johnson, eventually Gifford, came in to join him in 1985. The two were good together on air and in September 1988, “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” became nationally syndicated.

Regis kathie leeAP Photo/Gerald HerbertRegis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford on a September 8, 1988 taping of ‘Live With Regis and Kathie Lee.’

“That is the basis of all my shows. That opening segment is what makes the show work,” said Philbin of why his shows, like “Live!,” had about 20 minutes of casual talk and banter with his co-host and about the morning news. “It’s become a staple of the show… No writers. It’s what’s in the paper, what I’ve seen, maybe what she’s seen, what’s going on in the world, and just having fun with that.”

Gifford hosted the show with Philbin for 15 years until 2000. Current host, Kelly Ripa, joined the show in 2001 and hosted with Philbin until he departed the show in 2011.

Regis kelly ripa 2011Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesRegis and Kelly on set during the taping of Philbin’s final episode of ‘Live’ in 2011. Kelly took over the show and now co-hosts with Ryan Seacrest.

Together they interviewed hundreds of celebrities ranging from Robin Williams and Taylor Swift to Madonna. Philbin won four daytime Emmys for his work on the ABC-produced talk show.

While Philbin maintained a good relationship with Gifford well after their time on air together, he didn’t have as rosy of a relationship with Ripa after he left the ABC morning show.

“She got very offended when I left,” Philbin said of Ripa on “Larry King Now” in 2017. “She thought I was leaving because of her. I was leaving, because I was getting older. It wasn’t right for me anymore.”

“Is that your final answer?” – not just a talk show host

If you don’t know Philbin for his lengthy accomplishments on TV, then you most certainly remember watching him in primetime on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Philbin started pulling double duty between “Live!” and the quiz show when the it launched in 1999.

The game show had contestants attempt to answer a range of trivia questions in order to win money. The questions became more difficult the further the guest advanced.

Regis who wants to be a millionaireGetty Images‘Is that your final answer?’ That was the question Philbin became famous for asking guests on the game show. This photo is from the first year of the show in August 1999. Philbin shakes the hand of Doug Van Gundy, from Marlinton, West Virginia.

Philbin hosted the show until 2002 before a syndicated version of the show launched with Meredith Vieira in the hot seat. Philbin returned to host the show’s 10th primetime anniversary in 2009.

“Millionaire” wasn’t Philbin’s first game show. He also hosted ABC’s “The Neighbours” and appeared on “Almost Anything Goes” briefly in the mid ’70s.

Over the years, Philbin also made guest appearances on shows, movies, and cartoons, including “How I Met Your Mother,” “Seinfeld,” and “Hercules.” He often appeared on “The Late Show” with his good friend David Letterman as well. On his second to last show, Letterman said Philbin appeared on his show over 150 times, more times than any other guest.

Health, love, and his greatest Joy

Philbin was first married for 13 years to Catherine Faylen, with whom he had two children. Interior decorator Joy Senese became his great love. The two married in 1970 and had daughters Joana and Jennifer. If you watched “Live,” Regis brought up his wife often. Other times, Joy guest-hosted over the years.

Regis philbin wife joy 2018Stuart Ramson/Invision for Kelly Cares Foundation/AP ImagesRegis Philbin and Joy at the Kelly Cares Foundation’s Irish Eyes Gala on May 7, 2018.

Philbin was diagnosed with heart disease in the ’90s. As a result, he had an angioplasty in ’93 to open clogged arteries and underwent triple bypass surgery in 2007. After his retirement from “Live,” he and Joy joined a health campaign, Take Cholesterol to Heart, to raise awareness for those who may have high cholesterol. When asked what kept their marriage going in 2011, Joy said her husband always found a way to keep things interesting.

“There’s just something about Regis,” she told Parade. “There’s always something new on the horizon and it keeps our lives active and fun. I’d rather be with Regis than any other person in the world.”

Though Philbin left “Live” in 2011, he continued to keep busy, appearing on “Rachael Ray”; a Fox Sports 1 talk show, “Crowd Goes Wild”; and “Today With Kathie Lee and Hoda.”

“I’m afraid to retire because I dont know what I would do,” Philbin had told the TV Academy. He said he hoped to be remembered as “a nice guy who did his best to give you a few laughs and make you feel welcomed to his show… I want people to enjoy what I do and understand what I’m doing is for their enjoyment. That’s all I can ask for.”

Philbin is survived by his wife and four children, Joana, Jennifer, Amy, and Daniel.

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