Among the many morning shows vying for everyone’s attention, host Regis Philbin was a beacon of energy and friendliness who made his mark alongside the Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa. In primetime, Philbin kept audiences in suspense and made the tedious process of answering trivia questions a rollercoaster ride of excitement on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Unfortunately, that bright spot on the small screen has disappeared as Regis Philbin has passed away at 88 years old.
News of the death of Regis Philbin came from People magazine, who received this statement from his family:
“We are deeply saddened to share that our beloved Regis Philbin passed away last night of natural causes, one month shy of his 89th birthday. 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.”
After graduating from Notre Dame university with a degree in sociology and serving in the U.S. Navy, Philbin worked his way up the ladder of television, taking jobs as a page, a stagehand, a news writer, a radio and TV reporter, and then finally, a television talk show personality.
Regis Philbin had his own late night talk show that began in the fall of 1961, and it became a hit. Not only did he host, but Philbin wrote, produced and even booked the guests, including Jerry Lewis, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Walter Winchell, just to name a few.
Eventually, Philbin was hired to replace comedian Steve Allen on another late night syndicated talk show, but that only lasted a couple months. He followed it up with a gig as the announcer and sidekick of The Joey Bishop Show, hosted by the man who was part of the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
After the show was canceled, Philbin made the jump to morning television, which is where his real legacy would begin. He started off with Tempo, a three-hour morning show on Los Angeles local network KHJ-TV, moved to a different morning show in Chicago, and even tried his hand at a couple other talk shows for a Midwest CBS affiliate and NBC.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Philbin worked with names like Ruta Lee, Sarah Purcell, Cyndy Garvey, Mary Hart, but it wasn’t until 1985 when Live with Regis & Kathie Lee came along and the ratings skyrocketed. It went on to become syndicated and kept the pair together as a team until the year 2000. The next year, Kelly Ripa came in to replace Gifford, and they worked together for a decade before Philbin decided to retire from the show.
While working with Ripa, Philbin also found success in primetime when he became host of the massively successful game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a remake of the United Kingdom trivia show of the same name. The show ran from 1999 to 2002, dropping in popularity almost as quickly as it rose to fame. But “Is that your final answer?” became a hot catchphrase in pop culture because of it.
Over the years, the fame Regis gained as a television personality also afforded him many opportunities to appear as himself. In addition to becoming a great foil for David Letterman’s late night antics, Philbin also appeared as himself in TV shows like Mad About You, The Larry Sanders Show, Seinfeld, Caroline in the City, Spin City, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Ugly Better, How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, New Girl, and more.
Regis Philbin was also famouse enough to make cameos as himself in movies like Little Nicky, Jack and Jill, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, The Great Buck Howard. But with a voice appearance in Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After, he voiced Mabel, the the stepsister of Cinderella.
Philbin won several Daytime Emmys for his work on TV in the mornings, and according to Guinness World Records (via The Hollywood Reporter), the host has spent nearly 17,000 hours on television, giving him a world record that will be hard to surpass. Philbin is also part of the Broadcast Hall of Fame.
It’s one thing to be famous in Hollywood, but it’s another thing entire to become so famous that everyone simply knows you by your first name. Whenever anyone said the name Regis, people knew exactly who they were talking about, and his legacy will live on in entertainment for generations to come.
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