Television talk show host, game show superstar, singer, author, actor, red carpet bon vivant. You name it, he’s done it. The word “icon” seems to have been created for Regis Philbin.
Born on August 25, 1931, Regis, a native New Yorker, graduated from his beloved University of Notre Dame in 1953 with a degree in sociology. After serving in the Navy, he began a standard apprenticeship in television: page, stagehand, sports newswriter, and substitute anchor. Regis first tasted fame on ABC’s The Joey Bishop Show from 1967 to 1969 and amply proved he could handle the demands of live television; on opening night, actress Debbie Reynolds tackled Regis to the ground while demonstrating how to help someone on fire. But the show also had its upside, introducing him to Bishop’s assistant, Joy. They married in 1970.
Regis next co-hosted KABC-TV’s local morning talk show A.M. Los Angeles before moving back east to take over WABC-TV’s The Morning Show. There, he eventually paired up with Kathie Lee Gifford. In 1988, Buena Vista Television picked the show up for national syndication and re-titled it Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, a name that lasted until Gifford departed in 2000. In 2001, Regis won a Daytime Emmy® Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host, and Kelly Ripa joined him at the morning show. The pair spent a decade together until Regis departed the show in 2011.
Regis’ game show career began in 1975 with a short-lived program, The Neighbors, followed by what surely must be considered a precursor to today’s reality competition shows. Called Almost Anything Goes, the ABC series was an uninhibited outdoor free-for-all. Regis honed his off-the-cuff interviewing skills on the field as contestants competed in stunts like carrying a loaf of bread while sliding across a greased pole suspended over a pool of water. His credentials soared, however, with the debut of ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 1999, on which Regis almost singlehandedly popularized catch phrases like “Is that your final answer?” He also took home the Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host in 2001.
Regis has also found time to write three books, I’m Only One Man!, Who Wants To Be Me?, and How I Got This Way. As a longtime admirer of crooners such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, he recorded several albums, including two for Hollywood Records: When You’re Smiling in 2004 and The Regis Philbin Christmas Album the following year.
Proving that time waits for no man, Regis kept up the pace with annual hosting duties for the Disney Christmas Parade specials, serving as Grand Marshal of the 2002 Tournament of Roses Parade, and acting in several hilarious guest appearances on Kelly Ripa’s ABC series Hope & Faith, where he played car salesman Handsome Hal Halverson. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003, and in 2008 received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys. If that wasn’t enough, Guinness World Records enshrined him as having more on-air hours than any person… a record he keeps breaking.