7/31/2020 | By Terri L. Jones

I have to start this post by saying that I wasn’t a big Regis Philbin fan. I didn’t dislike him, mind you. I’d just never given him much thought, watching his morning show, Live! only occasionally when I was off from work. Philbin reminded me of that funny, big-mouthed uncle whom you get a kick out of seeing two or three times a year but essentially kind of forget the rest of the year.

However, since his passing on Friday, July 24, as I read tributes from his friends and coworkers and watch infinite clips of his performances, I have to admit that I’m starting to fall a little bit in love with him. Philbin was witty, no doubt; but he was also warm, charming and completely unassuming for someone who had achieved so much notoriety. He had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for gosh sakes!

Every time he was on TV, everyone says he was just “Reege.” And this refreshing authenticity – and chemistry with his co-hosts, most notably Kathie Lee and Kelly – made for relatability and, as it turns out, pure gold TV.

“His talent was being himself completely and making everybody else the star of the show,” says, cohost Kelly Ripa. She went on to say: “… his love of people will be his legacy.”

More Than Idle Chitchat

Philbin is credited for creating the “host chat” formula, where for the first 15 minutes co-hosts talk about everyday topics: what they did the night before, their families, their health, their ups and downs and even their funny habits, etc.

A great example happened on The Rosie O’Donnell Show in 1997. Appearing as a guest on the show, Reege divulged to Rosie – and her audience – that when he woke up at night, he liked to eat Smucker’s (pronounced “Schmucker’s) strawberry jam on an open-face Ritz cracker (“and once in a while, when I really feel daring, a dab of peanut butter on top!”). Rosie said she preferred a Ritz “sandwich” herself. Anyone else relating this rather mundane story may have gotten a yawn, but Reege along with Rosie got big laughs in their telling of it.

This unscripted, approachable banter proved to be just what audiences were looking for and won him two Daytime Emmy Awards. Since the veteran host originated it, this host chat formula has been and continues to be used by a whole string of talk show hosts to follow.

Stardom: A Long Time Coming

But celebrity didn’t come easily – or quickly – for Regis Philbin. After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in sociology and serving in the Navy for two years, Philbin started in show biz in 1955, as a page for NBC. He went on to work as a writer, producer and sportscaster for a Los Angeles sports show. His first big break came in 1967 when he was chosen to be Joey Bishop’s sidekick on his national talk show of the same name.

When Bishop quit in 1969, walking off the stage after his monologue, Philbin hosted this very last show; an astrologer was one of his guests.

“You know, your name is going to become a household word in this country,” the astrologer told Philbin but added that his astounding prediction wouldn’t come true for two whole decades. Philbin hung in there, and exactly 20 years later, Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee was syndicated for national audiences!

Talk Shows & Game Shows

In between, the performer hosted his own local talk show called The Regis Philbin Show in San Diego and a local morning show, worked on two game shows and hosted a feature/magazine lifestyles show.

After Kathie Lee Gifford left Live! in 2000, Philbin continued to host the show with Kelly Ripa until 2011. Then he also rocketed to game show host fame with the hit show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? during this time. He took home another Daytime Emmy for this work.

The consummate host also held his own on the other side of the talk show desk, earning the title of “most frequent guest in the history of The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Wrote David Letterman in a statement after Philbin’s death: “He was on our show a million times, always the best guest we ever had. Charming, lovable and could take a punch. When he retired, I lost interest in television. I love him.”

“Hardest Working Man in Show Business”

But Philbin was hardly a one-trick pony. Among many other stints, he made guest appearances on myriad sitcoms (from Seinfeld to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air); authored books; voiced one of the Cinderella’s stepsisters in not one, but two Shrek films; and even recorded a few albums. On a Christmas album, Philbin sung a duet of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Personally, Regis Philbin was a loving husband to Joy, to whom he was married for 50 years. He was dad to three daughters and a son, who passed away in 2014. He was also a shrewd stock market investor and regularly contributed to CNBC’s Fast Money; there he shared his strategies and quipped with the hosts in true Regis style.

Called “the hardest working man in show business,” he set the Guinness World Record for most hours on U.S. television (16,746.50 of them!) when he left Live! in 2011 but kept showing up on TV screens almost until his death. His final appearance was this past April on the ABC comedy Single Parents, which is co-created by his daughter J.J. Philbin.

Kathie Lee Gifford summed it up the best: “Regis. There will never be another.”

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones