Regis Philbin, the genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” has died at 88.
Philbin died of natural causes Friday night, just over a month before his 89th birthday, according to a statement from his family provided by manager Lewis Kay.
Celebrities routinely stopped by Philbin’s eponymous syndicated morning show, but its heart was in the first 15 minutes, when he and co-host Kathie Lee Gifford — on “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” from 1985-2000 — or Kelly Ripa — on “Live! with Regis and Kelly” from 2001 until his 2011 retirement — 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.
“Even I have a little trepidation,” he told The Associated Press in 2008, when asked how he does a show every day. “You wake up in the morning and you say, ‘What did I do last night that I can talk about? What’s new in the paper? How are we gonna fill that 20 minutes?’”
“I’m not gonna say it always works out brilliantly, but somehow we connect more often than we don’t,” he added.
“One of the greats in the history of television, Regis Philbin has passed on to even greater airwaves,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet. “He was a fantastic person, and my friend.”
Ripa and her current partner, Ryan Seacrest, called Philbin “the ultimate class act, bringing his laughter and joy into our homes every day.”
The tributes flooding in over social media read like blurbs for a movie Philbin would promote: “Always made me laugh” — Tony Bennett. “One of a kind” — Henry Winkler. “A lovely man” — Rosie O’Donnell. “His wit was only surpassed by his huge heart” — Meredith Vieira. “As wonderful a man as he was talented” — Paul Reubens, also known as Pee-Wee Herman. “You were the best” — LeVar Burton.
He’s survived by his wife, Joy, and their daughters J.J. and Joanna Philbin, as well as his daughter Amy Philbin with his first wife, Catherine Faylen, according to People.