26 Jul 2020

Award-winning TV host Regis Philbin dies aged 88

8:45 am on 26 July 2020

Regis Philbin, a familiar face to TV viewers as an energetic and funny talk and game show host who logged more hours in front of the camera than anyone else in the history of US television, has died aged 88, People magazine said, citing a statement by his family.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Regis Philbin speaks onstage at Spike TV's "Don Rickles: One Night Only" on May 6, 2014 in New York City.

Regis Philbin on stage in New York in 2014. Photo: AFP

The magazine said Philbin died of natural causes yesterday, one month shy of his 89th birthday.

"His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him, for his warmth, his legendary sense of humour, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about," the statement said.

"We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss."

He was known for his rough edges, funny anecdotes, self-deprecating humour and a Bronx accent that was once described as sounding "like a racetrack announcer with a head cold".

American comedian and late-night host David Letterman, a long-time friend, called Philbin the funniest man on television.

Philbin - known to fans as "Reeg" - was a fixture on various local and national shows for a half century with co-hosts including Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa, winning millions of fans as well as honours as the top US talk and game show host.

He hosted the successful Who Wants to be a Millionaire programme when it debuted in the United States in 1999 as well as other game shows. Philbin signed a deal in 2000 making his salary for Who Wants to be a Millionaire $US20 million a year, the most ever for a game show host.

In 2011, as Philbin was ending his run as co-host of the popular Live! With Regis and Kelly at age 80, The New York Times wrote: "In a daytime landscape filled with bland, polished hosts and smarmy good cheer, Mr Philbin was crumpled, nasal and histrionic. He was a snaggletooth amid cosmetic dentistry and porcelain veneers."

"Spontaneity is everything to me, working without a net," Philbin told the Times in 2011.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Billy Crystal (L) and Regis Philbin the Los Angeles Screening of "Standing Up, Falling Down" on February 20, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

Billy Crystal, left, and Regis Philbin at a film premiere in Los Angeles last February. Photo: AFP

Guinness World Records listed him as having put in more time on camera than anyone else in the history of US television - about 17,000 hours.

Philbin first made a name for himself in the 1960s with his own show on local TV in San Diego and then as a sidekick to comedian Joey Bishop on another programme.

Philbin's biggest success came in the various incarnations of his nationally syndicated morning talk show that began in 1983 when he created The Morning Show for WABC in his native New York City.

After two co-hosts came and went, singer Gifford joined him in a highly successful collaboration in 1985, and in 1988 the programme gained national syndication. Gifford remained his co-host for 15 years before Philbin was partnered with perky former soap opera actress Ripa for 11 years. Ripa remained as host of the show after Philbin departed.

"I think he is the world's greatest storyteller," Ripa said in 2011. "That's his gift."

Multiple Emmy winner

In 2001, he won a Daytime Emmy as outstanding talk show host and another Emmy for outstanding game show host for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He also received a lifetime achievement Daytime Emmy award in 2008.

Philbin was known for his candid appraisals of his career. He told ABC's 20/20 programme in 2001 that he left the Live! talk show in part because the contract offered to him "wasn't what I expected or I thought I deserved."

He said his No 1 career regret was that he had worked so many unheralded years on local programmes in Los Angeles and New York before getting national exposure in 1988. "I wish I didn't have to wait till I was in my late 50s before the good part of my life started in this business," he told 20/20.

Philbin wrote books including How I Got This Way, I'm Only One Man! and Who Wants To Be Me? and also was a singer.

Philbin was born into an Irish Catholic family in New York City on 25 August 1931. He was named after Regis High School, a Jesuit boys school in Manhattan that his father attended. He attended the University of Notre Dame and then served in the US Navy before beginning his television career.

Philbin dealt with heart problems during his career and underwent triple-bypass surgery in New York in 2007 at age 75.

Philbin married his second wife, Joy, in 1970 and remained married the rest of his life. She sometimes co-hosted his national talk show with him when Gifford or Ripa were away.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Joy Philbin and Regis Philbin attend the Spike TV's "Don Rickles: One Night Only" on May 6, 2014 in New York City.

Regis Philbin with his wife, Joy, at an event in New York in 2014. Photo: AFP

- Reuters