Regis Philbin, beloved TV host of ‘Regis and Kathie Lee’ and ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,’ dies at 88

TV legend Regis Philbin has died. The “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” host, who died Friday of natural causes, was 88.

Philbin’s family confirmed the news to USA TODAY in a statement sent Saturday by his representative Kay Lewis.

“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,” his family wrote. 

His family and friends will be “forever grateful” for the time they had with him, they added.

“For his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, 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,” the Philbin family said.

Philbin, often fondly called “Regis,” was a ubiquitous presence on television, much of it coming from decades in daytime talk highlighted by more than 20 years on the popular, nationally syndicated “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” (which ran from 1985 to 2000 and went national in 1988), with Kathie Lee Gifford, followed by “Live! With Regis and Kelly” (2001-2011), with Kelly Ripa. Philbin made his last appearance on the show, now known as “Live! With Kelly and Ryan,” in 2011.

Celebrities routinely stopped by Philbin’s eponymous syndicated morning show, but its heart was in the first 15 minutes, when he and Gifford (or Ripa) bantered about the events of the day. Viewers laughed at Philbin’s mock indignation over not getting the best seat at a restaurant the night before, or being henpecked by his partner.

Gifford told USA TODAY in 2019 that she hesitated to join the “Today” show in 2008 because she feared her best TV years were captured on “Regis and Kathie Lee.” 

“I thought I’d done the best television I could possibly do. Regis and I did 15 years together, and we changed the face of daytime television forever,” she said. “We really did … (Philbin is) a master at it, and I felt very grateful to be a part of history.”

After exiting his position as co-host on “Live! With Regis and Kelly” in 2011, Philbin told Larry King in a 2017 interview that he hadn’t kept in touch with his Ripa since his departure.

In the middle of his “Live!” reign, Philbin arguably became the biggest name on TV, hosting ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” a two-week 1999 game-show event that became a national phenomenon. Philbin’s trademark question, “Is that your final answer?,” became quoted everywhere.

The show became a TV supernova, spawning a primetime series hosted by Philbin and a long-running syndicated version hosted by Meredith Vieira and others. But, largely due to overexposure, the primetime edition flamed out fairly quickly, ending in 2002. Philbin hosted special event versions in 2004 and 2009, with ABC reviving the format this year with Jimmy Kimmel as host.

The audience responded to Philbin’s warm, comic touch in the role. He later jokingly referred to himself as the man who saved ABC. It wasn’t complete hyperbole: ABC was suffering in the ratings before the game became a smash success. Forbes reported that two-thirds of ABC’s operating profit in 2000 was due to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Philbin, a fiercely proud University of Notre Dame graduate who frequently touted his alma mater on TV, was famous for an enthusiastic vocal style, his cadence rising in speed, intensity and volume as he grew more excited, leading to many affectionate imitations.

Over the years, Philbin logged more than 15,000 hours on the air, earning him recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broadcast hours by a TV personality, a record previously held by Hugh Downs. 

“Every day, you see the record shattered, pal!” Philbin would tell viewers. “One more hour!”

Philbin was so prevalent on the small screen it led to friendly ridicule from comedians, including David Letterman, who frequently featured Philbin as a guest on his late-night talk shows. Philbin knew that terrain as well as daytime, having served as second banana to Joey Bishop’s brief stint as an ABC late-night host in the 1960s.

Philbin also acted early on in his career, appearing on such shows as “The Big Valley,” “Get Smart” and “That Girl” in the 1960s and early 1970s. He returned to scripted comedies in later decades as a household name, playing himself on “Spin City,” “Family Guy,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “30 Rock” and “New Girl.” His most recent appearances were on “Fresh Off the Boat” in 2019 and “Single Parents” in April, according to IMDb.

He’s survived by his wife, Joy, and their daughters Joanna and J.J. Philbin, as well as his daughter Amy Philbin with his first wife, Catherine Faylen, according to People. His daughter, J.J. (Jennifer Joy), is married to Michael Schur, executive producer of “The Good Place,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”