Regis Philbin Dies at 88

Regis Philbin Dies at 88

    Regis Philbin, TV’s Enduring Everyman, Dies at 88

    With patience, determination and folksy, spontaneous wit, Mr. Philbin climbed to pre-eminence relatively late in life on talk and game TV shows.
    Regis Philbin, the talk- and game-show host who regaled America all over morning coffee with Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa for decades, and who made television history in 1999 by intering the runaway rend “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” died on Friday night. He was at age 88.

    His death was spoken by his family in a statement. The statement did not announce where he died or what was the reason.

    In a world of annoyances, Mr. Philbin was the indignant Everyman, under siege from all sides by all damned computers, horrible traffic, inconsiderate people who were always late. There was no soap in the men’s room. Hailing a cab was hopeless. Losing a wallet in a rental car?! Even his own family was down on him for buying a chain saw!

    And was it possible, he wondered, to ask ever so softly in a crowded pharmacy where to find the Fleet enemas without the clerk practically shouting: “Whaddaya want, buddy? A Fleet enema?” he used to say.

    Regis, as he was widely known.

    Was a television personality for nearly sixty years and an ABC superstar since 1988, when his New York talk show went universal. But he also made five books, appeared in movies, made records as a singer, gave concerts and was a one-man industry of spinoffs, from shirts and ties to medical advice and computer games, so he was multi-talented.

    His secret was unscripted talk. Shunning writers and rehearsals, depending on trivia and his own careezma and off-the-cuff comments in a 15-minute “host chat” and then on good chemistry with co-hosts and guests, he ad-libbed for 28 years on “The Morning Show” (1983-88), “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” (1988-2000), “Live! With Regis” (2000-1) and “Live! With Regis and Kelly” (2001-11).

    Unlike alot of late-show monologues, Mr. Philbin’s were personal: self-mocking accounts of life’s woes and misadventures. The rest of the show might be anything: Ms. Gifford talking about her pregnancies or her dogs, Chardonnay and Chablis; Regis dancing with Chippendale hunks, unable to get his pants off over his shoes, hopping about in his underwear or even dogs talks with cats.

    Mr. Philbin and Ms. Gifford often exchanged barbed put-downs as every husband and wife he chided her for being late; she called him a jerk once, but they rarely drew blood, even when the topics were the infidelities of her husband, the sportscaster Frank Gifford, or allegations that child labor was being exploited in Honduras to make the Kathie Lee clothing line for Walmart. She denied knowledge of sweatshop conditions and campaigned to protect children from them.

    Along with homemaking advice, cooking shows and celebrity interviews

    Mr. Philbin had a predilection for sports guests. A Notre Dame alumnus, he spoke about football, boxing and basketball like the teammate he had not been in. He worked out in a gym constantly, but he also shamelessly exaggerated his own prowess. He once put on wrestling togs and skull-and-crossbones tattoos for a WrestleMania skit.

    “Our show is Reege living out his jock dreams by racing across Columbus Avenue in traffic to catch passes from Joe Namath and Terry Bradshaw,” Ms. Gifford said in a memoir. “It’s Reege mussing up wrestling manager Freddie Blassie’s hair and getting a chair tossed at him; shadowboxing with Razor Ruddock; weight lifting with Joe Piscopo; jousting with American Gladiators Lace and Gemini.”

    His career and endly life.

    In the early 1960s, Mr. Philbin was a sportscaster and news anchor in San Diego city, and in the 1964-65 season he hosted his first talk show, “The Regis Philbin Show,” on Saturday nights at KOGO-TV. It was syndicated nationally for almost 13 weeks and later aired on KTTV in Los Angeles.

    From 1967 to 1969, he was the announcer and sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show,” one of ABC's many attempts to challenge the ratings dominance of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” on NBC. In the early ’70s he hosted “Regis Philbin’s Saturday Night in St. Louis” on KMOX, a CBS affiliate there. From 1975 to 1981 he co-hosted “A.M. Los Angeles,” a top-rated show on KABC, first with Sarah Purcell and then with Cyndy Garvey.

    In 1983, Mr. Philbin teamed with Ms. Garvey in New York on WABC’s “The Morning Show.” Two years later, Kathie Lee Johnson she became Gifford after the divorce and remarriage replaced Ms. Garvey as his co-host. In 1988, the show went into national syndication and became “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.”

    From the years 1982 to 1987, he hosted as well “Regis Philbin’s Lifestyles,” a magazine show on Lifetime that addressed health, diets, exercise and beauty. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s he was a professional whirlwind, with appearances on sitcoms, talk and game shows, dramas, comedies, variety shows, Miss America pageants and specials for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. He also appeared in a number of films, usually as himself

    In his lastest book, he recalled going on the “Late Show With David Letterman” after announcing his leaving from daytime television into night shows. The two old friends talked airily of retiring together and riding off into the sunset. Paul Shaffer’s band struck up a galloping cowboy rhythm, complete with harmonica response.

    “So you and I are on the horses,” Mr. Letterman announced. “We’re slumped in the saddles, and we ride down Broadway. And then we get a kid to come out on Broadway. And we have him saying, ‘Shane! Come back, Shane! Shane, come back!’ And then we ride right out the door and right down to Times Square.”

    “Right out the door,” Mr. Philbin said. “I love it. Will we be singing ‘Memories …’?”

    “No. We’re not singing ‘Memories’!”
    Christina Morales contributed reporting.

    Ahmed adel
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    writer and blogger, founder of Echo Life .

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