Philbin, who would have turned 89 on August 25, passed away on July 24. He will be best remembered as the host of “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee,” which became a national sensation in 1988 and later transitioned into “Live! with Regis and Kelly” in 2001, and as host of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which debuted in 1999.
Raised in the Van Nest section of the Bronx, Philbin graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School and the University of Notre Dame with a sociology degree. He later donated $2.5 million to Notre Dame for the development of the Regis Philbin Studio Theatre.
His career began in1955 as a page for “The Tonight Show,” which led to the “The Regis Philbin Show” in 1961. Philbin was also a sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show” in 1967. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most hours on U.S. television and is the recipient of six Daytime Emmy Awards.
“Regis was like a family member, and you feel like you lost a best friend, even if you didn’t know him,” said Judie Burstein, the first photographer for “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” “I was up each morning at 6 and had to be on the set by 8:30 a.m. Regis was the same in person as he was through the camera lens. He was authentic, genuine, and caring.”
Kenny Zaug, Jr. feels grateful for the opportunity to have met Philbin and his wife Joy on several occasions at The Porterhouse Restaurant, where he bartended.
“They would regularly have dinner there,” he recalled. “He would walk into the restaurant and bring this energy and joy, no pun intended. His ear-to-ear grin would light up the bar, and he would take time to meet and say hello to everyone.”
Christopher Dukas, a TV producer with “Inside Edition,” interviewed Philbin between 2000 and 2010 for stories on 9/11, John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his success on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
“Regis took time to answer my questions and put great thought into his answers,” Dukas said. “I remember him for his high energy and affable personality, and above all he appeared to be humble. He made you feel important and was totally approachable and warm. He didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone.”
“I remember waking up in the morning, excited to plop on the couch and watch ‘Live! with Regis and Kelly,’” said Sarah Almengor. “Regis Philbin made me feel connected, as if I knew him in a former life. I probably didn’t understand half the jokes Regis and Kelly made among themselves, but I truly enjoyed the banter, celebrity gossip, and personal stories.”
Dawn Johnson has been an avid autograph collector since she was 16.
“I decided to send him a letter requesting an autograph and was lucky enough to get an autographed photo of him,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor and was one of a kind. He will definitely be missed.”
When John Buckley was a student at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts High School, the choir was the opening act at Radio City Music Hall for Tony Bennett.
“Before the show, the boys were waiting to enter from stage left and the girls were stage right and got to hang out with Regis, who was hosting and about to introduce us,” he said. “We sang at the afterparty, and he and his wife were the only celebs who stopped talking and listened to us.”
Diane Amodeo remembers Philbin as kind, funny, compassionate, and very down to earth.
“He had a doctor on air that discussed a medical condition, then I went to see that doctor, got diagnosed, and wrote Regis a letter and shared my story,” she said. “When he responded with a phone call, I didn’t believe it was him, then we spoke at length. His show was my daily dose of laughter during some rough times and his phone call was the cherry on top.”