Iconic television personality dies at 88
Television fans are mourning the loss of Regis Philbin, who was one of the most beloved hosts in the medium. Not only he successfully re-invented morning television with his Live franchise with Kathie Lee Gifford and later Kelly Ripa, but also “saved ABC” as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He holds the Guinness Book Of World Records for the most hours logged on television in the United States.
Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Philbin began his broadcasting career as a page for The Tonight Show in the 1950s, then got his first on-air exposure filling in for Tom Duggan at KCOP in Los Angeles. It led to his own show in San Diego in 1961 at KOGO-TV (now KGTV) in San Diego and was briefly syndicated in 1964. He then gained famed as a sidekick on ABC’s late-night The Joey Bishop Show in 1967.
Philbin became host of ABC-owned KABC-TV’s A.M. Los Angeles in the 1970s, not to mention a weekly Saturday night late-night talk show at then-CBS-owned KMOX-TV (now Meredith-owned KMOV) for a Saturday night show, giving him the unique distinction of being employed by two network-owned station groups.
After appearing with Mary Hart of a short-lived NBC daytime morning show, Philbin shifted to New York City to become co-host of ABC-owned WABC-TV’s 9 a.m. morning show in 1983. In 1985, he was paired with Kathie Lee Johnson (now Gifford) and shot to the top of the ratings in the Big Apple. In 1988, Disney-owned Buena Vista Television launched Live With Regis & Kathie Lee in national syndication, although it would take nearly two years before the program showed up in Chicago (at Fox-owned WFLD-TV.) Live changed stations as much as the weather did here, with two tours of duty each at WFLD, WLS-TV (both in overnight slots though the show moved back to the ABC-owned station in 2013, two years after Philbin left), WGN-TV, and one at CBS-owned WBBM-TV, where it fared poorly opposite The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In 1995, Buena Vista Television and WABC became corporate cousins when The Walt Disney Company purchased Capital Cities/ABC.
In 1999, ABC tapped Philbin to host prime-time game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a novel idea at the time given there wasn’t a regularly scheduled prime-time network game show in 13 years. The program turned out to be a smash hit bringing the phrase “Is that your final answer?” into pop culture lore, with ABC eventually expanding the game show to three nights a week by 2000, reviving the then-dormant game show genre. Philbin was also host for special editions in prime-time for ABC and hosted a special week of shows for the syndicated version in November 2009. After the syndicated run was canceled last September after 17 seasons, Millionaire returned to ABC’s prime-time lineup last spring, now hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.
Philbin’s other hosting credits include America’s Got Talent, Million Dollar Password, and filled in for Dick Clark on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 2004 after he had a stroke. He made numerous appearances on both of David Letterman’s late-night shows, and made cameos in How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock, New Girl, and Hope & Faith plus numerous animated Disney films. When WFLD had the rights to Regis & Kathie Lee (1997-99), Philbin would often call in to Bob Sirott’s and Marianne Muricano’s Fox Thing In The Morning show.
After he left (or was forced out of) Live in 2011, Philbin hosted an unsuccessful FS 1 talk show Crowd Goes Wild, where he departed after only a few months.
Philbin is the author of two autobiographies: I’m Only One Man and Who Wants to Be Me?
On a personal note, I met Regis Philbin exactly 20 years ago during a Millionaire promotional event in Montgomery Wards at Ford City and got his autograph – despite the fact my car broke down as I drove right into the parking lot of the shopping mall! He couldn’t have been more nicer. I’ll post the picture on my Instagram account once I find it.
Thanks for everything, Reege.