Remembering TV legend Regis Philbin; Hosted First Talk Show in San Diego

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Regis Philbin, the onetime host of “The Regis Philbin Show” in San Diego who went on to greater fame as the star of “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee,” “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” on ABC, has died at age 88, his family told reporters.

“We are deeply saddened to share that our beloved Regis Philbin passed away last night (Friday) of natural causes, one month shy of his 89th birthday,” said the statement on behalf of his widow, Joy, and other relatives.

“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.”

Disney CEO Bob Chapek tweeted Saturday, saying, “Regis was a very special part of our Disney family for over a half century and we will miss him deeply. He was an amazing person, consummate entertainer, TV icon, and a true Disney Legend. Our heartfelt condolences to Joy and the entire Philbin family.”

In 2011, Philbin was inducted as a Disney Legend at D23 Expo.

Former “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart released a statement Saturday reflecting on her time as one of Philbin’s early co-hosts.

“Regis made me co-host of the short lived “Regis Philbin Show” in 1981. Ironically, the cancellation directly led to my 30 years hosting `Entertainment Sunday evening.’ Anyone of us who had the privilege of working with Reeeeg were made to feel like part of his family. Regis was loved because he loved people and they knew it. He had a special ingenuity with his wit, insight and relatability.

“Joy was always such an important partner in everything he did. I grieve for her. Regis cannot be replaced.”

Philbin holds the Guinness World Record for most hours on camera, which he set on the Aug. 20, 2004, edition of “Live! with Regis and Kelly.” At the time, the record — formerly held by the late Hugh Downs, long time host of  “20/20 who died July 1 — was 15,188 hours on television, but Philbin added many more hours after that.

Born Aug. 25, 1931, the Manhattan native graduated from University of Notre Dame in 1953 with a degree in sociology. He served in the U.S. Navy, then began a standard television apprenticeship as a page, stagehand, sports newswriter and substitute anchor.

Philbin held several jobs on Southland television shows over the years, most prominently as the co-host of the KABC morning show “A.M. Los Angeles” from 1975-81. Working with co-hosts Sarah Purcell (1975-78) and Cyndy Garvey (1978-81), Philbin took the program from worst to first in the ratings.

He also worked at Los Angeles’ KCOP in the late 1950s, and hosted “The Regis Philbin” Show on KOGO-TV (now KGTV) in San Diego earlier in his career. He returned to New York in 1983 to take over WABC-TV’s “The Morning Show.”

Radio host, Shotgun Tom Kelly, joined Good Morning San Diego to discuss Regis.

His top-rated stint on “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” and “Live With Regis and Kelly” in the 1990s cemented Philbin’s status as a broadcast legend.

He then became a prime-time icon during the meteoric rise of  ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which debuted in 1999. Along the way, millions of viewers heard him rhapsodize about his beloved alma mater, Notre Dame, and its many sports and other achievements.

His former co-host Kathie Lee Gifford paid tribute to Philbin on Instagram.

“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,” Gifford wrote. “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.”

And Kelly Ripa — who replaced Gifford in 2001 and helped Philbin maintain the show’s popularity — penned her own tribute on the social media platform.

“We are beyond saddened to learn about the loss of Regis Philbin,” she said on behalf of herself and current co-host Ryan Seacrest. “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.”

Other TV heavyweights weighed in as well, with longtime CNN host Larry King tweeting: “Regis Philbin was such a prolific talent. He could do it all, and we loved him for it. I will miss him every day. My heartfelt condolences to Joy and his family.”

ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel tweeted “Regis was a great broadcaster, a good friend and a tremendous amount of fun. He leaves behind a beautiful family and a TV legacy that will likely go unmatched. Regis, I hope our friend (Don) Rickles met you at the pearly gates with open arms and a slew of the insults you loved so much.”

Among the legion of broadcast jobs he held over the years, Philbin hosted a short-lived program that replaced “The Steve Allen Show” in 1964, was Joey Bishop’s sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show” from 1967-69, and hosted “The Neighbors,” a short-lived game show on ABC from late 1975 to early 1976.

He hosted “Million Dollar Password” — an updated version CBS’ “Password” from 2008-09, and the first season of “America’s Got Talent” in 2006.

Philbin also appeared in dozens of television shows including “Fresh Off the Boat,”  “30 Rock” and the “Late Show With David Letterman” and movies such as including “Miss Congeniality” and “Little Nicky.”

He also wrote or co-wrote two autobiographies — “I’m Only One Man!” in 1995 and “Who Wants To Be Me?” in 2000 — and even recorded a couple of albums of pop standards.

Philbin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003, at the prime location of 6834 Hollywood Blvd., just west of Highland Avenue and on the same block as the TCL Chinese Theater.

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, King and comedian Don Rickles were among the celebrities who showed up to share in Philbin’s big day.

Afterward, Philbin spoke with David Sheehan of KCAL9, who wanted to know why the TV talk show host was getting a star.

“I really don’t know,” he said with a laugh.

Philbin said he has reviewed movies for years and spoken to big stars and walked around Hollywood and seen all the big names, but never figured he would be among the pavement pantheon.

“I guess they’ve loosened up the rules lately to include people like me, but I’m grateful for it and it’s a big thrill. But I don’t consider myself to be in their league,” he said.

Philbin is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joy; daughters J.J. Philbin and Joanna Philbin; as well as a daughter from his first marriage, Amy Philbin; and multiple grandchildren.

Categories: Entertainment, Good Morning San Diego, In Studio Guests, Local San Diego News