Regis Philbin, the effervescent broadcast personality whose everyman shtick, pithy one-liners and ability to relate to a live studio audience on talk shows such as “Live! With Regis and Kelly” kept him face-to-face with America for seven decades, has died.
Philbin died Friday of natural causes, his family said in a statement provided to the Times. He was 88.
“His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him — for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about,” Philbin’s family 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.”
Self-effacing and given to amusing and sometimes sarcastic banter about the mundane ups and downs of life — a visit from his mother-in-law, a night at the Mets game — Philbin became a familiar and comfortable guest in America’s living rooms while perfecting the format of television morning talk shows.
Known affectionately as “Reege” and “Outregis,” Philbin got his start in television as a page at NBC Studios in New York. He made a name for himself guest-hosting “The Tonight Show” and serving as comedian Joey Bishop’s sidekick and announcer on “The Joey Bishop Show” in the 1960s. “Late Show” host David Letterman regarded Philbin as “a master communicator” and had him on his show more than any other guest in the show’s history.
Television host Regis Philbin waves goodbye during his final show of on ABC’s “Live With Regis and Kelly” in New York, November 18, 2011. After nearly three decades hosting the show that became “Live With Regis and Kelly,” Regis Philbin stepped down with a few well wishes to his colleagues and fans.
In a 2000 Times interview, when asked what made him likable, Philbin seemed embarrassed by the question.
“I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to answer about yourself,” he said. “I guess it’s good genes. My parents brought me up well, to have pleasure when making people happy.”
Then, he seemed to pause and reconsider, exclaiming (as he was wont to do): “Oh, no! I can see the headlines now! ‘Regis Thinks He’s a Nice Guy! Who Does He Think He Is?!’”
But it was that avuncular charm that endeared him to legions of fans who tuned in for his unscripted tête-à-têtes each morning as the host of ABC’s “Live!” with co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and, later, Kelly Ripa. To preserve authenticity and ensure spontaneity during their conversations, Philbin refused to talk with his co-hosts before they went on the air.
The show’s executive producer said Philbin’s on-screen persona was not an act.
“People probably think Regis turns it on for TV,” Michael Gelman said in 2004. “They think they are seeing ‘TV Regis.’ Regis on TV is Regis off TV.”
At age 80, and after more than 56 years on TV in Los Angeles and New York, Philbin departed “Live!” during an emotional finale. Some said Philbin was finally tired of the daily grind and the early hours and wanted an easier life. He was replaced by the affable NFL player turned analyst Michael Strahan, who co-hosted with Ripa until he bowed out in 2016.
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