Few people have left as much of a mark on the world of television as Regis Philbin. Active in the industry from 1955 all the way until just a few years ago, it's hard to imagine the medium without his unmistakable presence constantly popping up and grabbing our attention. This unique talent earlier this week, but he will not soon be forgotten by anyone who enjoyed his immense body of work over the years. In honor of his memory, here are 50 iconic facts about the one and only Regis Philbin.
Philbin was born in New York City in the summer of 1931. His parents gave him the distinctive name “Regis” after his father’s alma mater, Regis High School in Manhattan. Maybe some of us should have predicted that a guy who was named after a school would go on to become legendary for his work ethic!
Philbin holds the Guinness World Record for most hours ever spent in front of a TV camera. He first achieved this feat when he overtook Hugh Downs’ record with his 15,188th hour on television in 2004. As of his last appearance on Live!, his record stood at a whopping 16,343 hours spent on television. Good luck ever breaking that!
Although he spent the vast majority of his adult life working in the television industry, Regis had other jobs in his youth. Prior to trying his hand at broadcasting, Regis spent several years serving his country as a supply officer in the United States Navy in the 50s.
While still in his Navy service, a superior officer once struck up a conversation with Philbin. The officer asked him what he planned on doing when he got back to his civilian life. Philbin timidly admitted that he was interested in exploring a career in television, but he was unsure as to whether this idea was realistic. The man's response changed young Regis's life forever.
The officer proceeded to give Philbin a stirring pep talk, encouraging him to always pursue his dreams. He told Regis to remember that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. The words apparently struck a chord with the future star, and the rest is history.
When his Navy service ended, Philbin took a role as a page at NBC. This is the job that got his foot in the door of the TV world. It also allowed him to hang around the celebrities of the day, as many of them would come through the studios he was working in. Being a page made Regis feel extremely starstruck on a daily basis, and he found it difficult to get used to. However, it also unexpectedly thrust him into his first-ever appearance on TV...
When singer Eddie Fisher appeared on a show that Philbin was working on, our future star had the role of holding the elevator for the singer as he walked towards it for his big exit at the end of the show. The camera picked young Regis up for a brief moment as he held the elevator. Little did anyone realize how many more times he would appear on the airwaves!
Philbin worked for a number of local programs while trying to find his place in the TV world. He took a job as a writer for a show hosted by a man named Tom Duggan. Elevator incident aside, he finally made true his on-air debut while working there—though it probably didn’t go quite the way he had always imagined it!
Duggan was a heavy drinker, to the point where his drinking interfered with his ability to do his job. One day while under the influence, Duggan failed to show up for work. Philbin was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight as his fill-in host for the day. The young man was extremely nervous to be on the air, but managed to make it through the show without issue.
The first time Philbin hosted a show of his own, he faced serious budget struggles. I guess the network wasn't about to shell out the big bucks for this first-timer. He had to do everything on his own and didn't even have a writing staff! To deal with missing this key component, he gave the show a “host chat” style, where he would improvise and converse with his studio audience about whatever was on his mind that day.
Even though Philbin became one of the most successful people in the history of TV, it didn’t start out that way. His first national talk show lasted only about four months before cancellation. It wasn’t entirely his fault though—he was replacing comedy legend Steve Allen’s show, shoes that many fans felt no one could ever fill.
On the bright side, the cancellation of Philbin’s first talk show did help give rise to another television legend. Upon the network’s removal of Philbin from the air, they found future Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune creator Merv Griffin as his replacement, helping to build his national exposure and stature in the TV world. So, thanks for that too, Regis!
Philbin’s big break finally came in the late 1960s—though, once again, it didn't exactly happen like he hoped. He became the comedic sidekick on the Joey Bishop Show. His role largely consisted of being teased and ridiculed as the butt of all the host’s jokes.
Just before Philbin reached fame on the Joey Bishop Show, he had already had a brush with the limelight in a surprising and unexpected way. In 1955, he married Kay Faylen, the daughter of Frank Faylen—a longtime Hollywood character actor who played supporting roles in the films of stars as big as Barbara Streisand, James Stewart, and Laurel & Hardy.
The road to fame is seldom direct. Philbin’s case was no exception. Around the time he started working for Joey Bishop, Philbin also recorded and released an album as a singer. I guess he wanted to try his hand at more than one avenue of show business, just in case. The album, titled It’s Time for Regis!, was neither a critical nor a commercial success, and Philbin just stuck with broadcasting from that point on.
Following the end of the Joey Bishop Show in 1969, the public forgot about Philbin for a while. Many assumed his career was probably over. In fact, in 1978, a question appeared in a book of trivia questions about 1960s culture, asking in the past tense, “Who was Regis Philbin?” The answer provided in the book identified him as “Joey Bishop’s sidekick on his late night show".
Little did anyone realize that Philbin’s career was far from over, and that he was soon to become so much more than just someone’s sidekick!
Philbin spent most of the 1970s hosting local shows across the United States. At one point, he was hosting a morning talk show in Los Angeles as well as a weekend show in St. Louis. This meant he was commuting halfway across the country and back every single week. And you thought half an hour on the subway was bad!
This level of dedication was a preview of how he would one day earn the nickname of the “hardest working man in show business".
As you might have imagined, the lifestyle of constantly traveling back and forth between two cities every week can take a big toll on someone, and it certainly doesn’t make family life too easy to manage. Philbin’s life grew more and more hectic, and he worried that he didn't get to spend enough time at home. Luckily, that was all about to change...
Just as Philbin was hoping for some kind of a steady gig to come along that would allow him to work and live in one city consistently, he began to host a morning show with a woman by the name of Kathie Lee Gifford in 1985. People loved the chemistry of the two hosts, and the pairing became permanent.
Three years later, this now-national morning show changed to a title some of you might find familiar: Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Its popularity grew and grew over the years, and it marked the beginning of the most successful chapter in Philbin’s long and decorated broadcasting career.
It’s probably a good thing that Philbin was able to find success and remain in his home city permanently as he had hoped. Perhaps thanks in part to this change, Philbin’s marriage to his second wife, Joy, was a happy one that lasted for fifty years, right up until the TV star’s passing. In an industry where many marriages don’t even last one year, that’s no small feat!
Live! gradually became one of the biggest talk shows in America, and it has dominated the morning airwaves for several decades since. Kelly Ripa eventually replaced Kathy lee, and she remains on air to this very day—now co-hosting with Ryan Seacrest. All of this was made possible thanks to the talents and charisma of its original host, Regis Philbin.
Right around the time that Live! started, Philbin decided to take on a side job just in case things didn’t work out. He opened up a car dealership in Arizona, but due to excessive competition in the area, it only survived for about four years. Luckily, though, Philbin’s other gig worked out well enough that this failure didn’t leave him in any financial hardship!
At the height of his popularity, Philbin started to face some dire health problems. He experienced serious chest pains and had to undergo several operations to get himself back to normal. From that point on, he became an extremely health-conscious individual, eating well and exercising regularly.
Despite his health problems, Philbin never faltered in keeping up his unbelievable work ethic. Any time he had to have surgery, the star was always back to his hosting duties almost immediately after—sometimes even the very next day. One such occasion was in May of 2010, when he had a blood clot removed and was back on the air the next morning!
Sadly, one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of Live! was when, just months into Ripa’s tenure, the show was abruptly called off just minutes before it was to begin due to the attacks on the World Trade Center. For the first time in over a decade, the show went off the air for a full week as the nation tried to grasp what had just happened.
The absence of this morning staple served as one of many chilling reminders of how horrible things had become that week.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but maybe we should take that with a grain of salt! In the 1990s, right at the height of Live’s popularity, NBC was looking to adapt Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a popular British game show, and they selected Philbin as the host. America was about to see the best Regis yet...
Philbin did such a great job as the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? that the series became a smash hit and quickly turned into a nightly primetime show rather than an occasional special as originally intended. The show's success made Regis so excited, he reportedly pranced around the studio, loudly declaring to those around him that “Regis saved the network!!”
Entertaining the public with trivia questions and prizes was far from Philbin’s only accomplishment as the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—he also created a new fashion trend. Fashion critics cite his preference for solid ties and shirts rather than patterned ones as the source of the increased popularity of the “monochromatic” look in men’s formal wear.
There was even a short-lived clothing line by Van Heusen based on this look, known simply as “Regis".
Despite his immense popularity as the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Meredith Vieira eventually replaced him due to concerns by the production team that he wouldn't be able to keep up with the show’s grueling work schedule, which involved filming a whopping four episodes each day.
Did these people forget that they were dealing with the hardest working man in television history??
One of Philbin’s most extreme character traits was his struggle to understand technology. He frequently became confused when trying to use simple devices such as DVD players and remote controls. He did not use computers, and he didn't even have a cell phone until 2008. Until that point, he'd simply ask his wife to take care of anything technology-related.
In 2011, Philbin announced that he would be stepping down from his role as the co-host of Live! after a run of more than twenty years. The show honored him by devoting an entire season to celebrating his career and showcasing his greatest TV moments from over the years. The Daytime Emmys also honored him with an award for “Outstanding Talk Show Host".
The award marked the fourth Daytime Emmy of his career.
Although Philbin’s departure from Live! appeared to have been amicable, there might have been more to the story. More than a few eyebrows raised when popular radio host Howard Stern alleged that the network had forced Philbin off the show due to his age. Stern and his guest, Jimmy Kimmel, insisted that Philbin would never choose to retire, so there must have been someone else behind his retirement.
While we’re on the topic of Howard Stern, here’s a fun fact for you—Stern and Philbin lived in the same building. Despite their completely opposite entertainment styles, they had a friendly relationship and often spoke to one another. Stern describes Philbin as always acting like he was putting on a show, even during casual conversation.
Even when he retired, it never really felt like Philbin’s career was truly over. Even as recently as about two years ago, rumors circulated that NBC was considering him as a possible new host for The Today Show. This would have meant a reunion between him and his former Live! co-host, Kathie Lee Gifford—who was then one of The Today Show’s hosts.
Sadly, these rumors never became a reality.
As close as co-hosts Philbin and Ripa seemed for all those years they shared together on our TV screens, there has been some drama between them in the years since Philbin left the show. In a 2017 interview with Larry King, Philbin stated that he has hardly kept in touch with Ripa since leaving the show. And that wasn’t all…
In the same Larry King interview, Philbin also revealed that, on top of missing his hosting duties, he was mad that NBC had not invited him back to visit or appear on the show again. Furthermore, he revealed that Ripa had been “offended” when he announced his decision to leave, and she took it as something personal he must have had against her.
The image this interview created was a far cry from the teary goodbye that the two had shared on his last show—but I guess every relationship has its ups and downs.
Despite Philbin’s complaints in his Larry King interview, his former producers were quick to correct the record. They responded by stating that Philbin had an open invitation to visit or appear on his old show any time he wanted. They also noted that he had in fact made a guest appearance on the show in 2015, and they had booked him for another one that fell through due to scheduling issues.
Regis Philbin should serve as a constant reminder to everyone out there that it's never too late to pursue your dreams. Philbin didn't reach the prime of his career and stardom until he was already in his 70s. He easily could have given up along the way but, because he didn’t, he was able to form an entire legacy for himself during his golden years.
Philbin was clearly a man of many talents—some of which most of us probably never expected! In the animated film Shrek the Third, Philbin provided the voice for a female character named Mabel. I guess when you’re as well-liked as Philbin was, you get all kinds of requests for things you never expected you’d be doing!
We all know that Philbin’s career brought him immense prestige and popularity, but just how much money did he actually make as a TV host? Earlier this year, reports estimated his net worth at $150 million. He also made roughly $100,000 per episode while hosting his classic game show. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I guess Regis did!
Although Philbin left his musical ambitions behind him many decades ago, he still decided to create a Christmas album in 2005. The album largely consisted of the TV host singing duets of holiday classics with various special guests. Among these duets was a performance of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” in which his singing partner was future president Donald Trump.
Philbin holds the record for the most appearances of all time by any contestant on the celebrity edition of the game show Jeopardy! Having appeared on the show three times, he won a total of $50,000, which he donated to his former high school. I guess with all the time he spent hosting Millionaire, it's no surprise that he knew a lot of the answers!
Although Philbin’s career is one of the most scandal-free in show business history, his record does still have a couple blemishes. Philbin recently appeared in advertisements in which he claimed that his wife, Joy, had taught him how to play tennis. However, this cannot possibly be the case, as he played on the Notre Dame tennis team as a young athlete long before he had met her.
And that’s about as scandalous as it ever got for Philbin!
Even after he retired from Live! Philbin never wanted to be too far away from the television cameras. In 2013, he briefly hosted a sports-themed talk show called Crowd Goes Wild. Unfortunately, the show did not last very long after poor reviews and even worse ratings led the network to abruptly cancel the project.
Philbin's stint on the Joey Bishop Show in the 1960s saw one of the craziest moments of his entire career. Despite his newfound popularity on the show, he soon discovered that not everyone out there was thrilled with his performance—and he was shocked to learn who his biggest critics were. A rumor had spread throughout the network staff that the executives couldn't stand Philbin’s performance. Apparently, they specifically hated his thick New York accent.
Learning how his bosses truly felt about him cut Regis deep, and he decided to do something about it. So, in the middle of a live broadcast one day, he burst into a surprise on-air rant about how he was feeling, and then shocked the TV world by abruptly quitting and walking off in the middle of the show. But the story didn't end there...
In the days following the dramatic departure of Philbin, the Joey Bishop Show’s staff frantically tried to determine how they could go on without one of their main stars. Finally, after a few days of cooling off, host Joey Bishop convinced Philbin that the bosses didn’t really mean what they had said and that the show truly appreciated him. He got his job back by the end of the week. It was a wild chapter in Philbin's career—but is that what really happened?
Many years later, Philbin claimed that this whole quitting incident had really been a pre-planned publicity stunt, and that Joey Bishop had been in on it all along. According to this account, they felt that the only way they could compete with other shows in the ratings was to do something shocking to garner headlines.
Publicity stunt or not, Bishop gave Philbin a taste of his own medicine a few years after the incident. When Bishop learned that his show was being canceled, he too abruptly quit while live on the air—leaving poor Regis on his own to improvise the rest of the day’s show. Luckily, our star was a pro by this point and had no problem keeping the audience entertained.
Even decades after the Joey Bishop quitting incident was out of the public’s minds, it seems Philbin’s old boss never it let go. When he was 80 years old, Bishop told an interviewer that Philbin was an “ingrate” and implied that he was greedy and had no talent. Yikes! Take it easy there, Joey!
Philbin was raised as an only child...or at least that’s what we used to think. Turns out the star had a younger brother, Frank, who didn't want public attention. He asked Regis to never mention him on air, or even acknowledge his existence. Philbin complied, and only finally revealed the truth to his fans after Frank passed on in 2007.
Just months before passing from heart disease in July 2020, Philbin made one last Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? appearance when the show came back for a 2020 edition hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Philbin appeared alongside the new host as a token of recognition and appreciation for the role he had played in the show’s history.
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