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Regis Philbin Was One of a Kind

Regis Philbin

Regis Philbin (Image credit: Ben Hider/Getty Images)

Television lost a true icon when Regis Philbin, longtime host of morning television and game shows, and frequent guest on other hosts’ shows, died July 24. Philbin hosted The Morning Show from 1983 to 1988, Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee from 1988 to 2000, Live! With Regis in 2000 and 2001, and Live! With Regis and Kelly 2001 to 2011. 

“In a world of annoyances, Mr. Philbin was the indignant Everyman, under siege from all sides — by the damned computers, the horrible traffic, the inconsiderate people who were always late,” said The New York Times. “There was no soap in the men’s room. Hailing a cab was hopeless. Losing a wallet in a rental car? Fuhgeddaboudit!”

Philbin was the most-watched person in television history, with more than 17,000 hours of airtime, according to Guinness World Records, surpassing Hugh Downs. 

He was “the perfect television personality,” according to Wally Podrazik, adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s department of communication and author of Watching TV.  “He was classy, well-spoken, fun to be with, friendly and a friend of the family.”

Philbin was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx. He graduated from Notre Dame and spent time in the Navy before starting in television as a stagehand, then a news writer, at KCOP Los Angeles. 

Philbin was an anchor in San Diego in the early ’60s and hosted the syndicated The Regis Philbin Show at KOGO San Diego starting in 1964. 

From 1967 to 1969, he was the announcer and sidekick on ABC’s late-night The Joey Bishop Show, and in the ’70s hosted Regis Philbin’s Saturday Night in St. Louis on KMOX St. Louis. From 1975 to 1981 he co-hosted A.M. Los Angeles on KABC Los Angeles, before taking on WABC New York’s local The Morning Show, alongside Cyndy Garvey.

Kathie Lee Johnson, later Kathie Lee Gifford, succeeded Garvey on the program, and national syndication as Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee followed. 

Philbin also hosted Regis Philbin’s Lifestyles on Lifetime from 1982 to 1987, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire  from 1999 to 2002. As a chatty pal of the contestants, “he was perfectly suited for that series,” said Podrazik. 

Philbin was noted as an ace ad-libber. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough called the opening of a Philbin program “the most compelling 10 minutes in television because it’s just what’s on his mind, what’s in his heart.”

“He was so talented because he always showed his heart on television,” added Scarborough. 

Philbin was inducted into the B+C Hall of Fame, and hosted the 25th anniversary Hall event in 2015. 

Podrazik likened Philbin’s death to a death in the family — for much of America. “If Regis was on screen,” he said, “it was worth tuning in.”