Regis Philbin, the legendary television host who began an iconic career with the wildly successful Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, has passed away. He was 88.
The television host’s family confirmed his death in a statement to People Magazine, saying: “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.”
The statement continued: “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.”
His career spanned decades, seeing him serve as a host on a list of classic shows including Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Million Dollar Password and America’s Got Talent.
Philbin leaves behind Joy Philbin, his wife of 50 years, and two daughters, Joanna and Jennifer.
Philbin’s question to contestants, “Is that your final answer?” became a national catchphrase. He was even a fashion trendsetter; he put out a line of monochramactic shirts and ties to match what he wore on the set.
“You wait a lifetime for something like that and sometimes it never happens”, Philbin told the Associated Press in 1999.
In 2008, he returned briefly to the quiz show format with Million Dollar Password. He also picked up the Lifetime Achievement Award from the daytime Emmys.
He was the type of TV personality easy to make fun of, and easy to love.
When his son Danny first met his future wife, “we were talking about our families,” Danny told USA Today. “I said, ‘You know that show Regis and Kathie Lee?’ And she said, ‘I hate that show.’ And I said, ‘That’s my dad.”‘
Yet Philbin was a favourite of a younger generation’s ironic icon, David Letterman. When Letterman announced that he had to undergo heart surgery, it was on the air to Philbin, who was also there for Letterman’s first day back after his recovery.
Letterman returned the favour, appearing on Philbin’s show when he went back on the air in April 2007 after undergoing heart bypass surgery.
Regis Francis Xavier Philbin grew up in the New York borough of the Bronx, the son of Italian-Irish parents and named for the Roman Catholic boys high school his dad attended. He went to Notre Dame University, and was such an enthusiastic alum, he once said he wanted his ashes scattered there.
After leaving the Navy in 1955, Philbin talked his way into a meeting with the stationmaster at KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. He got a job parking cars, then progressed into work as a stagehand, courier, newswriter and producer of a sports telecast. When its sportscaster didn’t show up one day, Philbin filled in.
The Associated Press contributed to this report