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Longtime television host, Regis Philbin, has passed away at the age of 88 leaving yet another cultural void in the entertainment industry. His place in morning talk shows spanned 40 years but his career in television is a remarkable 60 year history. Back in the late 1990s I’d heard of Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee; Who hadn’t if you were a watcher of morning talks shows.
But it was in 2003 that he showed up on my radar. At the time, my mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and I’d moved back to San Francisco to live with her while she went through a series of chemo and radiation treatments. Morning rituals became important to us, and tuning into Live! with Regis and Kelly became one of them. Every morning, my mother and I would chuckle as Regis would regale us with stories of who he’d bumped into the night before at the theatre or give us his always hilarious take on newspaper headlines, and of course, his off-the-chart witty banter with his host and guests. Those moments were precious to my mother and I: A respite from the stresses of fighting cancer.
I was always struck by his charm and humor, and it was then that I realized how truly talented he was. He made what he did look effortless, off the cuff, like he’d just decided to drop by for a chat. Which of course is nothing close to the actual requirements of professionalism, commitment, and the innate talent that he had to connect with an audience that made him a television icon.
Credit: People Magazine
His career started at Rockefeller Center in June 1955 as an NBC page. Through happenstance and sheer tenacity in 1960 he joined KFMB-TV, became a feature reporter and anchor on KOGO-TV (now KGTV) and decided he wanted his own talk show. When he asked for one, surprisingly the station gave him a live Saturday night talk show that aired in 1961.
It didn’t last long.
“I was thrown into Hollywood with associate producers and writers … I didn’t know how to tell a joke, that wasn’t me. I would tell you a funny story about what I had done, who I had seen, but jokes were different,” he said. “I could not handle it.”
His career as a talk show host would continue with it’s ups and downs through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.
“I had my years of struggling. Some of my shows failed miserably, and I was upset by it and it dented my confidence. But I never stopped. I kept going for it.”
All the hard work paid off when Kathie Lee Johnson/Gifford joined Philbin in 1985 as a co- host on his then show The Morning Show at WABC-TV. When ratings exploded the show would be renamed Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee.
When Gifford left the show in 2000, Kelly Ripa would join the seat beside him in 2001. And in 2011 when Philbin decided to leave after 28 years, he certainly didn’t retire. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was a property floating around, and in need of a host. When he saw a tape of the show he remembers thinking;
‘My gosh, this has hit all over it. Someone walks off the street and wins a million bucks?!’ I just loved the whole format,” he said. “I wasn’t even on the ABC list. I had to pitch pretty hard to even be considered for it.”
The show burned hot from 1999 to 2002, and Philbin would win a Daytime Emmy for his work on it.
“Is that your final answer? Here in New York garbage men, bus drivers, taxi cab drivers, bus drivers, whoever, you know, people just yell it out to me. So that was a lot of fun.”
Social media has been flooded with fond remembrances from those he worked with, inspired and mentored.
We are heartbroken to hear that a long time colleague & friend, #regisphilbin passed away at the age of 88. Regis graced us with warmth, humor & a self-deprecating wit, always bringing happiness to us all. Our hearts go out to Joy and to his family. Rest In Peace, Regis.
Another highlight of my career was co-hosting with Regis on Live It was a once in a lifetime moment to sit beside the king of improv tv. He was funny and gracious and warm. Love to Joy and his family. #RIPREGISpic.twitter.com/gDrdH4o2aY
Personalities like Regis Philbin live on not just through their body of work but more importantly, through the fond memories of laughter and joy attached to that body of work. Through good times and bad, Regis always delivered entertainment, and for that I will be forever thankful.
Regis Philbin, host extraordinaire, television icon, and creator of beautiful memories.
“Is that your final answer?”
Yes, Regis. Today, that’s my final answer.
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Tami Goveia is a producer, writer and entertainment host for AfterbuzzTV. Classic film and television are her passion, napping is her indulgence and saving all rescues is her mission.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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