Regis Philbin, Legendary TV Morning Show Host, Dies at 88

Five-time Emmy-winner died of natural causes Friday

Last Updated: July 25, 2020 @ 1:47 PM

Regis Philbin, longtime morning television host and five-time Emmy-winner, died Friday of natural causes, his family told People. 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.”

Born Regis Francis Xavier Philbin in the Bronx, New York, his showbiz career began as a page at “The Tonight Show” in 1955 when Steve Allen was its host, and he later became its announcer in 1962 with Johnny Carson manning the interview desk.

He transitioned to in front of the cameras with his first morning talk show, “The Regis Philbin Show,” which was out of San Diego. Influenced by the format at Jack Paar’s time on “The Tonight Show,” Philbin chatted with the audience about whatever was going on in his life at the time. However, the show was moved to a late-night slot, where it failed.

His first exposure to the network (rather than an affiliate) TV was in 1967 as the sidekick to Joey Bishop’s teasing on “The Joey Bishop Show.” That gig came to a memorable end after Philbin heard a rumor that ABC execs weren’t happy with his work.

In an on-air, unplanned condemnation of ABC, Philbin expressed his hurt feelings of “not being wanted and letting down” by the show, and he quit during the broadcast. But a few nights later, he returned and Bishop assured him the teasing was all in fun and not to take it personally.

Philbin was back working on local morning shows from 1975-19881, this time as co-host of “A.M. Los Angeles,” where his presence propelled the show to No. 1 in local ratings. After a short-lived morning variety series with Mary Hart as his co-host, he was paired with Kathie Lee Gifford (who, at the time, was Kathie Lee Johnson) in the nationally syndicated “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.” It was eventually picked up by most ABC-owned stations in the country.

Upon Gifford’s exit in 2000, guest co-hosts rotated until 2001, when Kelly Ripa was stepped in on a permanent basis and the show was renamed “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” and ratings took off.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Philbin broke his own record for “Most Hours on Camera” with 16, 343 hours in front of a TV camera.

While hosting his morning show, Philbin also was the original host of the ABC game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” where, at its height, it was airing five nights a week.

In his long, illustrious career, Philbin has earned Daytime Emmy Awards for outstanding talk show host, as well as for game show host.

Philbin has been very open through the years about his heart problems. In 1993, he underwent an angioplasty in which balloons are inserted into arteries or veins to widen them, and, in 2007, he had triple bypass surgery.

Philbin is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joy, and his daughters J.J., Joanna and Amy.

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