Philbin, a born and bred New Yorker, was known for his contagious excitement and incomparable storytelling on screen as a talk and game show host. He holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Hours on U.S. Television” with 16,746.5 hours, many of them live and unscripted.
“Spontaneous conversation,” Philbin said about his approach to hosting in a 2011 New York Times profile. “Spontaneity is everything to me, working without a net.”
Regis Philbin was born on August 25, 1931, in the Bronx to Florence and Frank Philbin. After attending Cardinal Hayes High School, he went to the University of Notre Dame, from which he graduated in 1953 with a sociology degree. He then served in the U.S. Navy for two years as a supply officer before following his dreams of being on television, at the urging of a superior.
Philbin got his start working as an NBC page before becoming a newscaster and got his first big break working as Joey Bishop’s sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show” in the late 1960s. After the show was canceled in 1969, Philbin hosted various late night and early morning talk shows before landing a star-making gig with Kathie Lee Gifford on ABC in 1985.
“Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” became a ratings stalwart for the network, in large part due to the hosts’ chemistry and Philbin’s antics. The show continued to reel in viewers after Gifford’s departure in 2000, with Philbin even winning a Daytime Emmy for his solo work. Gifford was eventually replaced by Kelly Ripa, who was Philbin’s co-host for over a decade before he decided to leave the show in 2011 after 25 years. Philbin and Ripa also won an Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Hosts in 2011. She now hosts “Live!” with Ryan Seacrest.
His undeniable morning show success was gratifying for Philbin, but in the Times profile, which came out shortly before his “Live!” exit, he said hosting the ABC prime-time game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” beginning in 1999 was “kind of the highlight of my life.”
“I realized there was a difference between a syndicated morning show and prime time,” he said. “‘Regis saved the network!’ I used to walk around saying that. I was a big man! I was a giant! It was a wonderful time in a broadcaster’s life to get a show like that. Wow, it was dynamite.”
The prominence of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was certainly a moment in pop culture history, as the game show became a must-watch event each week until it went into syndication after 2002.
At the time of his death, Philbin was married to his wife of 50 years, interior designer Joy Philbin, with whom he had two daughters, Joanna and Jennifer.
“There’s just something about Regis,” Joy Philbin told Parade in 2011. “There’s always something new on the horizon and it keeps our lives active and fun. I’d rather be with Regis than any other person in the world.”