FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, Regis Philbin appears on his farewell episode of “Live! with Regis and Kelly”, in New York. Philbin, the genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” has died on Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)

Report: Television personality Regis Philbin dies at 88

Philbin died Friday, just over a month before his 89th birthday

Regis Philbin, the genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” has died at 88, People magazine reported.

Philbin died Friday, just over a month before his 89th birthday. He died of natural causes, according to a family statement to the magazine.

Celebrities routinely stopped by Philbin’s eponymous syndicated morning show, but its heart was in the first 15 minutes, when he and co-host Kathie Lee Gifford — on “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” from 1985-2000 — or Kelly Ripa — on “Live! with Regis and Kelly” from 2001 until his 2011 retirement — bantered about the events of the day. Viewers laughed at Philbin’s mock indignation over not getting the best seat at a restaurant the night before, or being henpecked by his partner.

“Even I have a little trepidation,” he told The Associated Press in 2008, when asked how he does a show every day. “You wake up in the morning and you say, ‘What did I do last night that I can talk about? What’s new in the paper? How are we gonna fill that 20 minutes?’”

“I’m not gonna say it always works out brilliantly, but somehow we connect more often than we don’t,” he added.

After hustling into an entertainment career by parking cars at a Los Angeles TV station, Philbin logged more than 15,000 hours on the air, earning him recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broadcast hours logged by a TV personality, a record previously held by Hugh Downs.

“Every day, you see the record shattered, pal!” Philbin would tell viewers. “One more hour!”

He was host of the prime-time game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” briefly television’s most popular show at the turn of the century. ABC aired the family-friendly program as often as five times a week. It generated around $1 billion in revenue in its first two years — ABC had said it was the more profitable show in TV history — and helped make Philbin himself a millionaire many times over.

Philbin’s question to contestants, “Is that your final answer?” became a national catchphrase. Philbin was even a fashion trendsetter; he put out a line of monochramactic shirts and ties to match what he wore on the set.

“You wait a lifetime for something like that and sometimes it never happens,” Philbin told the AP in 1999.

In 2008, he returned briefly to the quiz show format with “Million Dollar Password.” He also picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award from the daytime Emmys.

He was the type of TV personality easy to make fun of, and easy to love.

When his son Danny first met his future wife, “we were talking about our families,” Danny told USA Today. “I said, ‘You know that show Regis and Kathie Lee?’ And she said, ‘I hate that show.’ And I said, ‘That’s my dad.’”

Yet Philbin was a favourite of a younger generation’s ironic icon, David Letterman. When Letterman announced that he had to undergo heart surgery, it was on the air to Philbin, who was also there for Letterman’s first day back after his recovery.

Letterman returned the favour, appearing on Philbin’s show when he went back on the air in April 2007 after undergoing heart bypass surgery.

In the 2008 AP interview, Philbin said he saw “getting the best out of your guests” as “a specialty. … The time constraints mean you’ve got to get right to the point, you’ve got to make it pay off, go to commercial, start again. Play that clip. Say goodbye.” He gave his desktop a decisive rap.

“And make it all conversational.”

Regis Francis Xavier Philbin grew up in the New York borough of the Bronx, the son of Italian-Irish parents and named for the Roman Catholic boys high school his dad attended. He went to Notre Dame University, and was such an enthusiastic alum, he once said he wanted his ashes scattered there.

After leaving the Navy in 1955, Philbin talked his way into a meeting with the stationmaster at KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. He got a job parking cars, then progressed into work as a stagehand, courier, newswriter and producer of a sports telecast. When its sportscaster didn’t show up one day, Philbin filled in.

Philbin got far more on-air experience in San Diego in the early 1960s, when KOGO-TV began producing “The Regis Philbin Show” for a national audience. The program of music and celebrity interviews was taped two weeks before each airing. It was cancelled after four months.

In 1967, Philbin was hired as the announcer and sidekick to comic Joey Bishop on his network show. When he heard that he was going to be fired because of poor ratings, Philbin tearfully announced he was leaving on July 12, 1968, walking off during a live broadcast. He returned three days later after letters of support poured in.

He and Bishop had bad blood: Bishop called Philbin an “ingrate” for walking off during a salary dispute and later badmouthing him.

Philbin’s second wife, Joy, was Bishop’s assistant.

After three years of commuting to St. Louis each week for a local Saturday night show, Philbin became a star in local morning television — first in Los Angeles, then in New York. In 1985, he teamed with Kathie Lee Johnson, a year before she married former football star Frank Gifford, and the show went national in 1988.

Philbin’s “sarcastic playfulness” endears him to fans, Good Housekeeping magazine wrote in 2000.

“He’s the little guy protesting the injustices of life, from crime waves to paper cuts,” the magazine wrote. “The ranting is punctuated with Kathie Lee’s familiar cry of ‘Oh, Reege,’ uttered sometimes in sisterly sympathy and sometimes in teacherly admonishment.”

The gentle bickering and eye-rolling exasperation in Philbin and Gifford’s onscreen relationship was familiar to anyone in a long-lasting relationship.

“No arguments, no harsh words in all this time,” Philbin told a theatre audience in 2000. “Well, there was the time I didn’t talk to her for two weeks. Didn’t want to interrupt her.”

Gifford left the show in 2000. After a tryout period for a replacement, soap star Ripa (“All My Children”) filled the slot.

The same hustler who parked cars in Hollywood worked just as hard to land the job on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

“I begged my way on,” he told People magazine. “There was a short list, and I wasn’t on it. I called my agent, and we made a full assault on ABC in L.A.”

The audience responded to Philbin’s warm, comic touch in the role. He later jokingly referred to himself as the man who saved ABC. It wasn’t complete hyperbole: ABC was suffering in the ratings before the game became a smash success. Forbes reported that two-thirds of ABC’s operating profit in 2000 was due to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

Philbin appeared to love every minute of it. Even the ultimate arbiter of hip, the MTV Video Awards, asked him to make an appearance.

“It’s better to be hot,” he told the AP. “It’s fun. I know this business. I was perfectly content with my morning show. People would ask me, ‘What’s next?’ There is nothing next. There are no more mountains for me to climb. Believe me when I tell you, all I wanted when I started this show in 1961 was to be a success nationally.”

The prime-time game burned out quickly because of overuse and ended in 2002.

Philbin enjoyed a side career as a singer that began when he sang “Pennies from Heaven” to Bing Crosby on Bishop’s show. He said a record company called him the next day, and he made an album.

Even though the series “Regis Philbin’s Health Styles,” on Lifetime in the 1980s, was part of his lengthy resume, Philbin had health issues. Doctors performed an angioplasty to relieve a blocked artery in 1993. He underwent bypass surgery in 2007 at age 75.

He’s survived by his wife, Joy, and their daughters J.J. and Joanna Philbin, as well as his daughter Amy Philbin with his first wife, Catherine Faylen, according to People.

David Bauder, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

A section of the Trans-Canada Highway north of Lytton. The highway will be closed for eight hours starting at 10 p.m. on Oct. 22. (Photo credit: BC Back Country)
Highway 1 from Spuzzum to Cache Creek to be closed for eight hours starting Oct. 22

Ten-hour closure will allow work to be done on bridge at Spuzzum

(from l) Fraser-Nicola candidates Aaron Sumexheltza (BC NDP), Jonah Timms (BC Green Party), Mike Bhangu (Independent), Dennis Adamson (Independent), and Jackie Tegart (BC Liberals) physically distancing after the All Candidates Forum in Ashcroft on Oct. 15. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Candidates face questions about health care, housing, and more

All five Fraser-Nicola candiates were at a forum in Ashcroft on Oct. 15

(front row, from l) Ashcroft and District Lions Club president Sue Peters; Joan Henderson of The Equality Project; Esther Lang from the Christmas Hamper committee; Trish Schachtel of the South Cariboo E. Fry Society food bank; and Tim Hortons manager Damian Couture with members of the Lions Club. (Photo credit: Gareth Smart)
Smiles all round as Lions raise money for three local groups

Equality Project, food bank, Christmas hamper fund all benefit from Tim Hortons Smile Cookie sales

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

Most Read