Regis Philbin, who became a household name in the 1980s cohosting “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” and later padded an impressive resume by hosting “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” has died. He was 88.
“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 said in a statement on Saturday. “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.”
Philbin was born and raised in New York City, and he said in an interview with the Archive of American Television that his uncle, who worked in television, piqued his interest in entertainment at a young age.
n 1955, he became a page at NBC for a few weeks before he moved to the west coast, where, eventually, he landed his first talk show, “The Regis Philbin Show,” in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, he replaced Steve Allen on “The Steve Allen Show” in Hollywood, but it flopped.
“I didn’t know how to tell a joke. That wasn’t me,” he explained in the Archive of American Television interview. “I simply could not handle it, and the show went off.”
Philbin went on to work as comedian Joey Bishop’s sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show,” and then began co-hosting morning TV in Los Angeles before returning to New York City to do so. His most famous job came along in 1988, when he began co-hosting “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” with Kathie Lee Gifford. After Gifford left the show in 2000, Kelly Ripa signed on as Philbin’s co-host a year or so later, and the show became “Live! with Regis and Kelly.”
“I think I’m going out a pretty proud and happy guy,” he said on his final episode in 2011. “I wanted this show to be a show where people would feel better about themselves, would look at life in, maybe, a different way, a funnier way, and I think that’s what we accomplished and I’m very happy about that aspect.”
Philbin also hosted “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” from 1999 until 2002, where he became famous for asking contestants, “Is that your final answer?” He told the Archive of American Television that after seeing an episode of the British version of the show, he knew it was going to be popular.
“I wasn’t even on the ABC list [of hosts] … and so I had to pitch pretty hard to be considered for it,” he told the Archive of American Television. “I loved it. I thought it was a tremendous hit.”
Throughout his TV career, Philbin also discussed his personal life. In 2007, he shared with viewers that he had a brother 20 years his junior, Frank, who died unexpectedly.
“I never talked about him because he was a very private guy,” he said at the time. “I’ve respected that all these years.”
Later that year, he underwent open heart surgery, and in 2009, he had his hip replaced.
The TV host was married twice and had four children. He is survived by his wife Joy, their two daughters, Joanna and J.J., his daughter from his first marriage, Amy, and grandchildren. His son, Danny, died in 2014.