Regis Francis Xavier Philbin was born in the Manhattan borough of New York City on August 25, 1931. His father, Francis "Frank" Philbin, was a U.S. Marine of Irish descent who served in the Pacific. His mother, Filomena ("Florence"; née Bashia), was a member of an Albanian-Italian immigrant family from Greci. Philbin had a Catholic upbringing. He was supposedly named "Regis" because his father wanted him to attend his alma mater, the prestigious Regis High School. It was long believed that he was an only child, but he announced on Live with Regis and Kelly in February 2007 that he had a brother named Frank (March 1, 1951 – January 27, 2007), who had died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma several days earlier. Philbin said his brother had asked not to be mentioned on television or in the press while still alive in order to protect his privacy.
Regis Francis Xavier Philbin (/ˈriːdʒɪs ˈfɪlbɪn/; August 25, 1931 – July 24, 2020) was an American television presenter, talk show host, game show host, actor and singer. Once called "the hardest working man in show business", he holds the Guinness World Record for the most hours on U.S. television.
Philbin followed sports extensively, especially baseball and football. He was an avid fan of the New York Yankees and a proud supporter of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the sports teams of his alma mater. He narrated the two audio CDs that accompanied Joe Garner's book, Echoes of Notre Dame Football: Great and Memorable Moments of the Fighting Irish, and was unwilling to waver even when St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin asked Regis to trade his allegiance. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1953, he returned to campus often for football games, concerts, pep rallies, banquets, and other events, and donated $2.75 million to the university to build the Philbin Studio Theatre for performance arts productions. When he heard that Larry King had never visited Notre Dame Stadium, he invited King and insisted on giving him a tour of the "greatest college campus in the world", which he did in October 2002 with Tim Russert also in attendance.
Philbin was raised in the Van Nest neighborhood of the Bronx. He attended Our Lady of Solace grammar school and graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School before attending the University of Notre Dame, from which he graduated in 1953 with a degree in sociology. He later served in the U.S. Navy as a supply officer Lieutenant Junior Grade (the equivalent of First Lieutenant in other U.S. military branches) and then went through a few behind-the-scenes jobs in television and radio before moving into broadcasting.
In his earliest show business work, Philbin was a page at The Tonight Show in 1955. Later he wrote for Los Angeles-based talk show host Tom Duggan and nervously filled in one night when the hard-drinking Duggan didn't show up. He also was an announcer on The Tonight Show in 1962. In 1957, Regis left his job as assistant news editor to Baxter Ward at KCOP, Los Angeles, to make his fortune in New York City. His replacement at KCOP was George Van Valkenburg.
His first talk show was The Regis Philbin Show in 1961 on KOGO-TV (now KGTV) in San Diego. For financial reasons, he had no writing staff, so he began each show with what became his hallmark, the "host chat" segment (influenced by Jack Paar), where he engaged his audience (and later his co-host) in discussions about his life and the day's events. In 1964, Westinghouse Broadcasting picked up Philbin's talk show for national syndication in the late night time slot (replacing Steve Allen). That Regis Philbin Show failed to attract many stations and Westinghouse replaced Philbin with Merv Griffin in 1965.
In 1964, Philbin hosted That Regis Pholbin Show, a nationally syndicated show for Westinghouse Broadcasting replacing The Steve Allen Show after Steve Allen refused to renew his contract. The audience did not accept Philbin as a replacement for Allen's zany antics and the appearance lasted only a little over four months because of dismal ratings, especially compared to Johnny Carson in the same time slot. Nevertheless, Philbin has cited Carson as an influence.
After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, Philbin served in the U.S. Navy and got his television start serving as a page for The Tonight Show in the 1950s. He got his first network TV exposure in 1967 as Joey Bishop's sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show. He is most widely known as the co-host of the New York City-based nationally syndicated talk show Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, starting in 1988, which became Live! with Regis and Kelly in 2001, and continued as Live! with Kelly after Philbin's departure in 2011.
Philbin gained his first network TV exposure in 1967 as Joey Bishop's sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show on television (1967–1969). In a Johnny Carson-Ed McMahon vein, Bishop would playfully tease Philbin and he would take the barbs in stride. But his feelings were hurt when he learned from the network grapevine that ABC executives were dissatisfied with his work and his thick accent, so during the opening of one 1968 program, he launched an unplanned diatribe about "not being wanted and letting down" the program and abruptly quit on air. A few nights later, assured by Bishop that all was well and the barbs were not personal, Philbin returned. As revealed in his 1995 book, I'm Only One Man!, this was actually a publicity stunt planned by Bishop and Philbin beforehand. He reiterates this assertion in his 2011 memoir, How I Got This Way, explaining that it was intended to draw in some of Johnny Carson's viewers. When The Joey Bishop Show was canceled, Bishop returned the favor and walked off the show on the air unannounced, leaving Philbin to carry the night on his own.
Philbin appeared on the sitcoms Spin City, How I Met Your Mother, Mad About You, Hope & Faith, Seinfeld, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as the sketch-comedy programs The Dana Carvey Show, Mad TV, and The Larry Sanders Show. He appeared in an episode of "The Big Valley" called "The Challenge" which first aired on March 18, 1968. In 1970, he appeared in an episode of the ABC crime drama The Silent Force.
Philbin was married to Catherine Faylen, the daughter of actor Frank Faylen, from 1955 to 1968; they had a daughter named Amy and a son named Daniel before divorcing. He married interior decorator Joy Senese in 1970; they had two daughters named Joanna and J. J. Senese occasionally co-hosted with Philbin. On Live, he often mentioned Joy, and to a lesser degree his children. He split his time between his Manhattan apartment (near the WABC-TV studios) and Greenwich, Connecticut.
Philbin was also a game show host. He hosted The Neighbors, a short-lived game show on ABC from late 1975 to early 1976. The show had two female contestants guessing which of her three women neighbors said gossipy things about her. In 1976, he was a "field reporter" for ABC's Almost Anything Goes, an American adaptation of the British game show, It's a Knockout.
In 1981, Philbin and Mary Hart co-hosted a national morning variety series for NBC. The show lasted 18 weeks.
After Garvey left Los Angeles in 1982 and moved to New York City, Philbin rejoined her on The Morning Show, on WABC-TV. At the time, the 9 am time slot for WABC suffered from low Nielsen ratings because of competition from WNBC-TV's Donahue and WCBS-TV's game show block featuring The Joker's Wild and Tic Tac Dough. After Garvey left again and Ann Abernathy briefly shared co-hosting duties, Philbin was paired with Kathie Lee Johnson (later Gifford), in June 1985, and ratings improved significantly. The show became nationally syndicated in September 1988 as Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee and the success continued. The program replaced A.M. Los Angeles upon its cancellation in 1991 and was eventually picked up by all of the ABC owned-and-operated stations except for WLS in Chicago, which aired The Oprah Winfrey Show in that time slot and had done so since the show's debut as A.M. Chicago.
In March 1984, Philbin opened a Ford dealership in Gilbert, Arizona, as a side investment during his career in television. The dealership, Philbin Ford, suffered due to the already saturated auto market in the area, and was closed in late 1988.
In 1991, Philbin was a celebrity guest at WrestleMania VII in Los Angeles, commenting on the main event between Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter.
Philbin had an angioplasty in 1993. On March 14, 2007, he underwent triple bypass surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center because of plaque in his arteries. Prior to the surgery, Philbin talked with David Letterman, for whom he had substituted on Late Show with David Letterman during Letterman's own quintuple bypass surgery. Following Philbin's successful heart surgery, he returned to the show on April 26. On December 1, 2009, Philbin had hip replacement surgery. He returned to his regular hosting duties on January 4, 2010. In May 2010, he underwent surgery to have a blood clot removed from his calf, and returned to work the next day.
In 1998, Philbin made an appearance in Disney's Hercules as the voice of the mythical monster Typhon; Kathie Lee Gifford was also present as the voice of Typhon's mate, Echidna.
When Gifford departed in 2000, the show was temporarily named Live! with Regis. Philbin had guest co-hosts until a replacement was found. Philbin won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 2001. Kelly Ripa was chosen as the permanent co-host in 2001, and the show was renamed Live! with Regis and Kelly. Their chemistry proved to be successful as the show continued to enjoy high ratings.
On December 25, 2000, Philbin appeared as a panelist on the first season championship game of the ESPN game show 2 Minute Drill.
Philbin's Millionaire hosting duties won him a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host in 2001. In a 2007 Time article, he was listed among the 15 Best Game Show Hosts in History. When Millionaire was honored on GSN's Gameshow Hall of Fame special, Philbin's tenure as the show's host was praised. Leigh Hampton, then executive producer of the syndicated version, said that he "[knew] when to take rein of it and when to sit back and let the contestant be the contestant," and Jennifer Slater of twogirlsandatv.com called him "the sweetest man on television." Philbin himself recalled his own Millionaire tenure on said special with the following statement:
Philbin was the original host of the U.S. version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, an ABC game show that had its roots in Britain. Millionaire was a big ratings success in its 1999 debut, when it was intended as an occasional special series. ABC aired Millionaire as a regular series with frequent episodes, but its viewership slowly declined. After Millionaire was canceled, it was retooled in 2002 as a syndicated series hosted by Meredith Vieira. ABC brought back Millionaire in 2004 with Philbin, retitled Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire, a related series that was aired on a more limited basis. Philbin had appeared in 11 episodes of a special edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which started on August 9, 2009, 10th anniversary of the show. He also was a celebrity contestant in this version. Millionaire, in its syndicated format, uses guest hosts for selected weeks during the season and Philbin hosted a week of episodes that aired in November 2009, coinciding with his 2009 surgery.
Philbin was a crooner in the styles of his favorite singers: Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra. He tested the musical waters with his 1968 pop vocal release, It's Time For Regis! After receiving poor reviews, he was reluctant to record another studio album, but he occasionally sang on Live, usually duets. In 2004, he recorded When You're Smiling, a traditional pop music album.
On February 28, 2004, Philbin guest-starred in a Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode called "Drowsy".
Philbin set a Guinness World Record for "Most Hours on Camera" on his August 20, 2004, Live show (replacing Hugh Downs), which gave him a total of 15,188 hours on television.
Philbin was also the host of The Apprentice 2 finale on December 16, 2004, and the official 30-minute red carpet arrivals at the 80th Academy Awards ceremony on February 24, 2008.
On December 31, 2004, Philbin filled in for Dick Clark on ABC's Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, as Clark was recovering from a stroke. Philbin (who was a year and a half younger than Clark) lightheartedly claimed to have interrupted his previously planned vacation to do the show. The following year, Philbin hosted a competing special for Fox, replacing Clark's new co-host and eventual successor Ryan Seacrest.
The Regis Philbin Christmas Album was released in September 2005 by Hollywood Records. It features several duets, with friend Donald Trump ("Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"), Steve Tyrell ("Marshmallow World"), and wife Joy ("Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "Winter Wonderland"). A special edition was produced, including tracks sung with the Notre Dame Glee Club.
In November 2005, ABC announced that Philbin would host the network's revival of This Is Your Life. In August 2006, he reported that his option on the contract for the show had lapsed and he declined to renew it.
On May 15, 2006, Philbin appeared as a special guest, alongside Howie Mandel, for a two-hour special episode of Deal or No Deal on NBC.
Philbin appeared three times on Celebrity Jeopardy!, the most appearances for any competing celebrity on the game show Jeopardy!. In November 2006, he won his competition and earned $50,000 for Cardinal Hayes High School, his alma mater.
Philbin hosted the first season of America's Got Talent, a Simon Cowell-produced amateur talent search show on NBC, during the summer of 2006. He flew between New York City and Los Angeles during that time period to participate in both Live with Regis and Kelly and AGT. Because of his difficulty with commuting cross country and his health problems, he was replaced in 2007 by talk show host Jerry Springer. With regard to filling Philbin's spot, Springer noted that "no one fills in for Regis. He's the best there ever was at this so you pay homage to him."
In October 2007, Philbin was featured in the 100th anniversary issue of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. He was a host of the Classical Superstars Fantasy Concert, which included piano virtuoso Lola Astanova with Russia's Kirov Orchestra led by conductor Valery Gergiev. The super concert for 500 guests was offered for sale at $1.6 million.
Philbin appeared as a contestant on Celebrity Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? in November 2007. He again played for his alma mater, Cardinal Hayes High School. He dropped out of the game and went home with $175,000 for the school.
In 2008, Philbin's contract with ABC was renewed through 2011. Under this contract, Philbin reportedly earned more than US $21 million per annum. He received a similar contract with CBS for hosting Million Dollar Password.
Philbin was known to have trouble handling new technology, and was frequently confused when operating electronics such as remote controls and DVD players. He did not usually use computers (although he did use one for an episode of Live in 2008, demonstrating how to find homes online) and did not own a cell phone until September 2008. It is often noted, however, that he did not completely reject technology; he simply had Senese make calls and send emails for him.
Philbin's affiliation with Fremantle started to develop at this time. He hosted a revival of the Password franchise entitled Million Dollar Password, which premiered June 1, 2008, and ended on June 14, 2009.
In September 2008, Philbin guest starred as himself on How I Met Your Mother, where he joined the cast in the search for New York's best hamburger. The show revealed that he worked out at Barney's gym. During the best-burger hunt, his picture hung in the "Best Burger" restaurant and every other suspected best-burger restaurant, such as Corner Bistro and Veggie Heaven. In the show, he hosted a "show within a show" called Million Dollar Heads or Tails, which made reference to both Million Dollar Password and Millionaire.
Philbin played on the Notre Dame tennis team, casting doubt on claims he made in an ad that he had learned to play tennis from Senese. Notre Dame football coaches such as Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham, and Lou Holtz have appeared on Live. Along with being a Yankees fan, Philbin was also "keeping an eye on the Florida Marlins". On May 5, 2009, he delivered the first pitch at a Marlins game. He also supported the Pittsburgh Pirates in his final years.
In August 2009, Philbin returned for a two-week stint as host of Millionaire. The eleven shows (Sunday-to-Thursday twice, plus one extra Sunday) started airing on August 9 on ABC primetime.
Philbin (along with Steve Harvey and John Henson) were named the 2009–10 guest hosts of the daily Millionaire. Philbin's episodes aired November 30 – December 4, 2009, and debuted new rules on the show.
On December 25, 2009, Philbin attended Christmas Mass with Father Edward L. Beck and Timothy Dolan, the current Archbishop of New York, at The Sunday Mass and gave a special interview discussing how being a Catholic had influenced his life.
Philbin hosted the 37th Daytime Emmy Awards on June 27, 2010.
Philbin's two autobiographies (with co-author Bill Zehme), I'm Only One Man! (1995) and Who Wants To Be Me? (2000), are written in the conversational or anecdotal style of his host chats. The first follows a year (1994–1995) in his life, his memories of celebrities, and work on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, among other things. The next was a response to the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. In 2011, upon leaving Live!, HarperCollins released his final memoir, How I Got This Way.
In February 2011, Philbin made an appearance on Take Two with Phineas and Ferb. On July 3, 2011, he was a celebrity guest on The Marriage Ref, along with Tracy Morgan and Susie Essman.
Philbin departed Live with Regis and Kelly after hosting his final show on November 18, 2011.
On May 29, 2012, Philbin appeared on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight during the show's Guest Host Week. Philbin's guest was his long-time friend, fellow television host David Letterman.
From September 2012 to October 2017, Philbin was an official recurring monthly co-host on Rachael Ray.
On Fox Sports 1, Philbin began co-hosting Crowd Goes Wild, a daily sports panel show, on August 17, 2013. He once again partnered with his producer from Millionaire, Michael Davies. In February 2014, he announced his leaving. He returned to occasionally host from March until its cancellation on May 8.
Philbin guest-hosted two episodes of The Late Late Show in January 2015. That July, he appeared on Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. He reappeared on the program roughly once a month, and sometimes joined Gifford as a guest host on Hoda Kotb's days off.
Philbin died from a heart attack due to coronary artery disease on July 24, 2020, a month before his 89th birthday, at a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. The funeral was held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Philbin was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, both on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Notre Dame.