Regis Philbin: 1931-2020
There are few names more synonymous with television than Regis Philbin, but his legendary career had an inauspicious start.
Prior to being discharged from the Navy, Regis Philbin had a goal of being a television host — but had no idea how to go about it. Explaining his dilemma to a "very tough" Marine Major, Philbin said in a 2014 interview, the officer told him, "Don't you know you can have anything you want in this life? You've only got to want it bad enough. Now do you want it?"
After his discharge, he got his foot in the door when he landed a job as an NBC page at the network's Rockefeller Center headquarters. This brought about his very first television appearance, when he appeared onscreen while holding an elevator door open for singer Eddie Fisher.
"I was thrilled," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I ran to call my mother to see if she'd seen me on TV. And she said, 'Yeah, yeah, but where was Eddie going?'"
Early Career In Broadcasting
Following his role as an NBC page, Regis Philbin landed a job as writer for a Los Angeles radio show, which led to his first on-air hosting gig. The show's host — reportedly a bit of a boozer — had gone on a bender and never showed up. Philbin was enlisted to take over.
This led to more gigs — including a very short-lived stint as announcer for The Tonight Show — until he was tapped to host his own daily talk show in San Diego.
The show had a minimal budget, and consisted of Philbin and a camera operator, which proved to be the ideal training ground as he was forced to come up with stuff to talk about on the fly — the origin of his signature "host chat" that would serve him so well in the future.
His Infamous 'Joey Bishop Show' Walkout
Following the regional success of his San Diego show, in 1961 Regis Philbin landed his big break when he was hired as sidekick on a new talk show hosted by comedian/Rat Packer Joey Bishop, airing opposite "The Tonight Show".
The show was cancelled in 1964, having never made much of a dent in the "Tonight" ratings.
During the run of the show, Philbin made headlines when he quit — on the air, in the middle of a live broadcast (he later claimed he'd been hearing buzz that the network was blaming him for the show's dismal ratings).
He wasn't gone for long. After a flood of viewer mail begging him to come back, he returned to the show a week later.
Mornings In Los Angeles
After a few more regional TV gigs, Regis Philbin eventually landed in Los Angeles, where he hosted a successful morning show alongside Sarah Purcell.
The two-host banter and Philbin's hilarious anecdotes about what he'd been up to the previous night proved to be a hit with viewers, creating the template that would soon be taken national and setting the stage for his biggest success yet.
'Live With Regis And Kathie Lee'
The success of his L.A. talker led Regis Philbin to the Big Apple, where he was partnered with Cyndy Garvey on "The Morning Show".
Garvey was eventually replaced by former "Good Morning America" correspondent Kathie Lee Gifford, with the show renamed "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" on NYC affiliate WABC.
"Live" was such a hit it began being aired nationally, enjoying a 12-year run until Gifford left the show in 2000.
'I'm Only One Man'
In 1995, Regis Philbin shared the story of his life with the publication of his memoir, "I'm Only One Man".
Notre Dame's #1 Fan
Regis Philbin was not shy about professing his love of his favourite college football team, the Fighting Irish of his alma mater, Notre Dame.
'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?'
Regis Philbin made a huge splash in primetime when he was tapped to host ABC's game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in 1999.
The show was an instant hit, a ratings blockbuster that crushed any show unlucky enough to be scheduled against it. As a result, the network eventually began airing "Millionaire" multiple nights per week; at one point the show was airing five nights a week.
This strategy ultimately caused viewers to burn out on the show faster than they would have otherwise, and "Millionaire" was cancelled in 2002.
Kathie Lee And Reege
In addition to their daytime talk show, Regis Philbin and Kathy Lee Gifford expanded their partnership into other areas, including a live cabaret-style stage act that they took on the road.
They also partnered to host various TV events, including the 1994 Miss America Pageant (pictured).
"Live With Regis And Kelly"
In 2001, "All My Children" actress Kelly Ripa was tapped as Kathie Lee Gifford's replacement for the renamed "Live with Regis and Kelly".
The pairing continued the show's success until Philbin parted ways with the show in 2011 at age 80.
His exit was murky, with rumours he was being pushed out because of his age. Regardless of what went down, his exit appeared to create a rift between him and Ripa.
Reege's Rockin' New Year's Eve
Regis Philbin was generally regarded as TV's go-to guy.
When Dick Clark suffered a stroke in December 2004, Regis Philbin was brought in as a last-minute replacement to helm the festivities for that year's edition of "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve".
First Host Of 'AGT'
When the Simon Cowell-created "America's Got Talent" was picked up by NBC, Regis Philbin signed on as the show's first host, alongside a panel of judges that included Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff and Brandy Norwood.
Philbin exited "AGT" after one season, replaced by Jerry Springer.
'Million Dollar Password'
In 2008, Regis Philbin was snagged by a whole new network to host game show, "Million Dollar Password" for CBS.
Unfortunately, the show never hit the heights of his "Millionaire" success, and was cancelled a year after its debut.
Go-To Guest Star
After Regis Philbin exited "Live" in 2011, he remained a frequent presence on the small screen as a guest star.
The many series he appeared on include "Hot in Cleveland" (pictured), "Fresh Off the Boat", "30 Rock", "New Girl", "How I Met Your Mother" and many more.
Failed Comeback Attempt
In 2013, Regis Philbin was tapped to host a sports-themed talk show for the fledgling Fox Sports 1 channel. Dubbed "Crowd Goes Wild", the show featured Philbin joined by a rotating panel of celebrity guests to discuss sports news of the day.
Ratings were bleak; at one point, the show logged a 0.1 share, with a national audience of a mere 29,000 viewers.
The show was cancelled eight months after its launch.
A Letterman Record
Regis Philbin was a frequent guest "The Late Show with David Letterman" — so frequent, in fact, that he set a record for the most-ever appearances on the show, having dropped by a whopping 150 times.
Reege And Kathie Lee Together Again
During Kathie Lee Gifford's tenure on "Today", Regis Philbin became something of a regular guest, showing up to chat with Gifford and her new on-air partner, Hoda Kotb.
In fact, during the 2016 Halloween show, Gifford costumed herself as Philbin and unleashed her hilarious impression of her former co-host.
Remembering A Legend
“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,” Philbin's family said in a statement to ET Canada.
“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. We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss."