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Regis Philbin, Iconic TV Host, Dead at 88

Regis Philbin, Iconic TV Host, Dead at 88
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Legendary TV host Regis Philbin, whose long, unscripted career included high-profile turns as a host of "Live!" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," died Friday at 88, his family confirmed. He died of natural causes a month before his 89th birthday.

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In a statement to People magazine, the Philbin family said, "His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him — for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, 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."

Born August 25, 1931, in the Bronx, he graduated from Notre Dame, served in the Navy, and began his TV career as a "Tonight Show" page in the '50s. He was an announcer on the show by 1962.

In the meantime, Philbin launched his first of many talk shows, "The Regis Philbin Show," on the radio, on KOGO-TV. It was here that he honed his skills as a conversationalist with his audiences and those on his show.

In 1967, Philbin broke through to TV viewers as the sidekick on "The Joey Bishop Show," which established his quick and irreverent wit. In a classic TV stunt, Philbin bitterly complained about ABC executives criticizing him behind his back and quit on the air. The stunt was meant to improve ratings, and worked for a while. When the show was canceled, Bishop quit live on the air, leaving Philbin to host it all by himself for the first and last time.

"Spontaneity is everything to me," he said in a 2015 interview.

In the '70s and early '80s, Philbin co-hosted "A.M. Los Angeles" (1975-1981) with Sarah Purcell and then Cyndy Garvey, establishing his ability to generate charm — and laughs — with a female co-host. This morning show already had him well on his way to the record he currently holds as the person with the most hours on TV — over 16,000.

Regis Philbin Kathie Lee Gifford 1999 GettyImages-50734925
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With Kathie Lee Gifford in 1999

When Garvey left that show in 1985, he was paired with Kathie Lee Johnson (Gifford when she married football hero Frank Gifford the following year). Their dynamic chemistry made it a big hit, and in 1988 it was syndicated nationally as "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee." The duo redefined the morning experience on TV with their banter, becoming household names.

Gifford departed in 2000 and was replaced by Kelly Ripa in 2001. The success continued.

He said his most memorable interview subject was Don Rickles, surpassing even presidents, but Philbin interviewed just about everyone who was anyone.

Regis Philbin Kelly Rip 2005 GettyImages-112367474
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With Kelly Ripa in 2005

On Instagram, Gifford wrote of Philbin's passing, "There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend, Regis. I simply adored him and every day with him was a gift. We spent 15 years together bantering and bickering and laughing ourselves silly — a tradition and a friendship we shared up to this very day. I smile knowing somewhere in Heaven, at this very moment, he’s making someone laugh. It brings me great comfort knowing that he had a personal relationship with his Lord that brought him great peace. I send all the love in my heart to Joy, to his children, to the rest of his family and to the innumerable people he touched over his legendary life. There has never been anyone like him. And there never will be."

Ripa and her current co-host, Ryan Seacrest, wrote on Instagram, "We are beyond saddened to learn about the loss of Regis Philbin. He was the ultimate class act, bringing his laughter and joy into our homes everyday on Live for more than 23 years. We were beyond lucky to have him as a mentor in our careers and aspire everyday to fill his shoes on the show. We send our deepest love and condolences to his family and hope they can find some comfort in knowing he left the world a better place."

A hot commodity while on morning TV, Philbin also became a beloved host of game shows, most prominently of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" upon its launch in 1999 and "Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire" (2004). He went on to host Season 1 of "America's Got Talent" (2006), "Million Dollar Password" (2008) and more.

Among his many other TV gigs, Philbin hosted "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" (2004), the 37th Daytime Emmy Awards (2010), and was a regular guest on talk shows like "Late Show with David Letterman."

In 2011, Philbin left "Live!," citing his age, and never looked — and was never invited — back.

Philbin won Daytime Emmys in 2001 and 2011 for his work on "Live!" He won another for hosting "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy in 2008.

As an actor (often playing himself), Philbin appeared on such shows as "That Girl" (1970), "CHiPs" (1978), "The Larry Sanders Show" (1994), a classic episode of "Seinfeld" (1994), "Spin City" (1997-2000), "Ugly Betty" (2008), "How I Met Your Mother" (2008), "30 Rock" (2011), and "New Girl" (2015). In 2019, he played himself on an episode of "Fresh Off the Boat," and did the same for an episode of "Single Parents" that aired in April of this year.

Among his many other accomplishments, Philbin cut a pop album in 1968, sang on "Live!," and resumed a recording career with such releases as "The Regis Christmas Album" (2005), which included a duet with Donald Trump on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Regis is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joy, with whom he has daughters Joanna and Jennifer aka "J.J."

He was previously married to and divorced from Kay Faylen, with whom he has a daughter, Amy, and a son, Daniel, who also survive him.

His brother, Frank Philbin, preceded him in death in 2007.

Tributes have been pouring in for the live wire who electrified so many dull mornings:

Fellow daytime host Rosie O'Donnell tweeted a hilarious video of herself interviewing "Reege," writing, "he was a lovely man #RIPRegisPhilbin."

Pee-wee Herman remembered him effusively, tweeting, "I absolutely LOVED Regis Philbin. I knew him to always be interested in everything, current, happy, funny, generous and sweet. As wonderful a man as he was talented. And, as this photos proves, he was up for anything! I will never forget him and miss him very much. RIP Regis."

Lisa Rinna called Regis her "mentor," writing, "I will never forget your generosity of spirit sweet Regis. You changed my life and I will never forget the lessons you taught me. You showed me how to fly. May you Rest In Peace with the angels. #RIP #RegisPhilbin."

George Takei tweeted, "It is hard to say goodbye to someone whose smile and laugh greeted us so often. Regis Philbin, thank you for bringing a sense of fun and normalcy to our lives. Rest among the heavenly hosts now."

Josh Gad tweeted, "This one hurts. A staple in our household growing up, his joy was infectious and his hosting skills among the greatest I’ve ever seen. Whether on “Live” or leading “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” he was always captivating & hilarious. #RIPRegis."

Holly Robinson Peete observed, "Truly the end of an era 🙏🏽."