Who wants to be a Millionaire: the life of Regis Philbin

Pretty much everyone on the planet has heard of the likes of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Talk shows are around in their plenty, and the list of ones you’ll probably recognize goes on and on. Having been around since the 1950s, you don’t have to look far to find one on television at any time of the day. With morning talk shows all the way through to the likes of The Late Late Show, there’s something at all periods of the day for anyone who watches television.

Much as The Late Late Show has gone through name changes and different hosts, so have the Live! Shows, but until recent years the original host, talk-show legend Regis Philbin, was at the wheel, steering the show in the new and exciting directions it would take. While other talk show host names may spring to mind, such as Jay Leno, Oprah, or James Corden, it is undeniable that the now 86-year-old Regis Philbin has earned his title and place in the talk show host hall of fame after his 50-year dedication to the entertainment business!

It’s hard to believe the number of things Regis Philbin has managed to achieve over the many years of his career, but when you’ve taken the steps he has, and done the things that he’s done, the payout all seems to be worth it in the end. While you can compare him to the other greats out there, Regis Philbin reached out and expanded his career enough to stand out from the crowd. And stand out he did! With his show Live! still continuing to this day, it’s no surprise that he managed to forge the path for talk shows and make a legendary television show from scratch.

Beloved host

When we hear the name, Regis Philbin, the stressful question “Is that your final answer?” still lingers fresh in our memory. Of course, he has done a lot more than host Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he has a career that spans over 60 years from The Joey Bishop Show to Live!. Regis has become one of America’s most beloved hosts of all time. He has gone on to win several awards for his work, including six Daytime Emmy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award and a TV Land Legend Award.

Hosting Live!

Regis’ most famous work stems from hosting Live!, which he did for a whopping twenty-three years. Although his co-host changed over the years from Kathie Lee Gifford to Kelly Ripa, the chemistry he had with each host was undeniable. His adorable wit and charm mixed with his co-host’s bubbly and bright personality was a match made in heaven. In 2011, when he announced that it was time for him to retire, fans everywhere were devastated.

Celebrity reactions

Celebrities everywhere reacted to the retirement of America’s favorite host. Jerry Seinfield issued a statement saying, “Regis is one of the greatest hosts in television history, but what’s most wonderful about him is that he is simply good company.” And Barbara Walters called Regis, “a wonderful friend to the show.” His former Live! co-host Kathie even chimed in, and said “There’s a million things Reg can do, there are going to be tons and tons of offers for him,” she added. “He’s still hot as pistol! How many people – except for Betty White – can say that in their ’80s?!”

The early years

Regis Francis Xavier Philbin was born to parents Francis and Filomena Philbin on August 25th, 1931, in the Bronx, New York City. Francis, also known as Frank, had served in the Marines. His mother was of Italian descent from a family that had immigrated to the U.S. While it is often believed that Regis did not have any other siblings, the couple had another son, Frank, 20 years after Regis was born, who unfortunately passed away in 2007. He had asked Regis never to mention him in the media.

Religious lifestyle

Growing up with his thick New York accent, Philbin was raised Roman Catholic. It was rumored that he was named after the distinguished Regis High School that his father wanted him to attend when he grew up. However, he ended up attending Grammar School before moving on to Cardinal Hayes High School, an all-boys Catholic high school. Philbin later went on to graduate from the University of Notre Dame in 1953 with a degree in sociology.

Getting started

After graduating University, Philbin enrolled in the U.S. Navy as a logistics officer. After leaving the Navy, he went on to build his career in entertainment as he started working on various sets of both TV and radio shows. Philbin would get some of his earliest work in show business, working as a page for ‘The Tonight Show’ during the 1950s.

First opportunity

Show business proved to be a challenging career choice for Regis; having to start out as a film-delivery man before climbing his way up to the top. Working in this business didn’t come without its problems. Philbin was writing for Tom Duggan, the talk show host, but Duggan was a hard drinker and didn’t show up one night for filming. This gave Philbin the chance to nervously take his place and have his first shot at hosting a television show.

Wedding bells

1955 saw Philbin marry Catherine Faylen, daughter of the actor Frank Faylen. Catherine then later went on to become a television actress. While married, the pair had two children, Amy and Daniel. Daniel was born without some vertebrae in his back, as well as missing some muscle in his leg. This meant he was wheelchair bound, and during the 9/11 attacks his father said on air he was concerned for his son who was working at The Pentagon, but he was later confirmed to be safe. In 1968 the couple, unfortunately, separated.

Big break

Philbin managed to secure his first big break after he began to write popular risque reviews about the station KCOP-TV and the newscasts they put out. He would then pin these onto the walls around the building, but rather than getting him into trouble, the reviews would instead ultimately lead Philbin to a position as a sports and news writer. It was in 1957 that he left his position as an assistant news editor at KCOP in Los Angeles.

Climbing the ladder

Due to his news writing career, Philbin ended up landing several reporting and news positions, both on television and on the radio. Subsequently, these jobs eventually led to Philbin’s anchorman positions. He managed to land his first talk show, named ‘The Regis Philbin Show,’ on a local channel in San Diego. The budget for the show was small, and they couldn’t afford writers. This led to the birth of what would later be known as Philbin’s hallmark.

The hallmark was born

The ‘host chat’ part of the show took place at the beginning of all of Philbin’s shows and would become his hallmark. This was where he could discuss what was occurring around the world in the day and his life at the time. He would use this opportunity to engage the audience and get them involved with the show. The show was picked up by Westinghouse Broadcasting in 1964, but what had seemed like a grand adventure turned out to be a disappointing flop.

Trying to be the replacement

The new adventure that Philbin was embarking on was taking over Steve Allen’s time slot, which was late at night. However, the show flopped as they could not attract viewers. This was alongside the fact that the audience wasn’t accepting of Philbin as they didn’t think he could live up to the previous host’s antics. Johnny Carson, who Philbin has said was his inspiration, also had a show during the same time slot, and it was too much competition with the ratings. Therefore, the show only lasted four months and was replaced by Merv Griffin.

The birth of the sidekick

Gaining his first television exposure in 1967, Philbin would find himself playing the role of Joey Bishop’s sidekick on his show. While on the show, Philbin would be playfully teased by Bishop. He would seem to take this well, even though he admitted later on that he often felt humiliated, and the comic duo was shown to be having fun. It wasn’t all fun though when Philbin learned through a source that ABC management had said they were disappointed with him.

The backlash

Following the criticism, Philbin did something drastic and abruptly quit while live on air. The outburst was unplanned and involved him explaining how he felt he was unwanted and was letting the program down. Bishop went on to assure him that the comments weren’t supposed to be taken personally and that he should return. So he did. Only later on it was released that it was all a plan concocted by Philbin and Bishop to try and steal viewers from the rival show hosted by Johnny Carson. Smart!

Carefully planned

After trying to steal the spotlight from their rival, ‘The Joey Bishop Show’ was canceled. After the cancellation was announced, Bishop returned Philbin’s favor and proceeded to walk off the show unannounced while live on air. This then left Philbin to carry on hosting for the night alone successfully. Following a few years of falling off of the television radar, Philbin would be set to return and once again make his mark on things in his own way.

Another Marriage

Regis Philbin re-married in 1970 to Joy Senese, who was born on February 1st, 1941. Senese was working as an interior designer but is now known for being a television personality in her own right. She has worked on many home-style television shows over the years, such as Haven and At Home With… Philbin and Senese have two daughters together, Joanna and Jennifer “J.J.”. In 2008 Jennifer and her husband had their first child, William Xavier Schur, and two years later in 2010, Joanna had a daughter – Ivy Elizabeth – making Regis a grandfather to two!

Some success at last

1975 to 1981 would prove to be successful six years for Regis Philbin as he embarked on his next venture of co-hosting the morning talk show ‘A.M. Los Angeles’ on KABC-TV. His co-host was originally Sarah Purcell, but when she left in 1978, Philbin was then paired with Cyndy Garvey. While hosting the show, Philbin managed to raise the local ratings by bringing it from oblivion to the number one spot on the list! That’s seriously something to be proud of.

Game on

During his time co-hosting the talk show, Philbin also undertook hosting the game show ‘The Neighbours’. The show ran on ABC from late-1975 into early-1976. The concept was to have two female contestants guess which of the three women had been gossiping about them. Unsurprisingly, the show was canceled not long after airing. In 1976 he went on to become a field reporter for ‘Almost Anything Goes’, an adaptation of a British game show. That show didn’t do very well in the ratings either.

Time for a move

In 1982 Cindy Garvey moved from Los Angeles to NYC, and Philbin went along too, to co-host ‘The Morning Show’ on WABC-TV. The morning time slot that the pair had for their show had low ratings due to the competition at the time with rival shows. Garvey ended up leaving again, and Philbin got paired with another, although this didn’t last long. However, when Kathie Lee Johnson got paired with Philbin in 1985, the ratings for the show began to improve drastically.

On the up

The show the two hosted together eventually got picked up in September 1988 as ‘Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee’. The pair’s’ ability to bounce off each other while on air and the chemistry they had was a roaring success. The show eventually led to seven Emmy nominations for Philbin after his incredible run in the series. Following the cancellation of ‘A.M. Los Angeles,’ the show was picked up by all but one of ABC’s operating stations.

Car dealership adventures

For a brief time, Philbin opened up a Ford dealership located in Gilbert, Arizona. The garage, which opened in March 1984, suffered because the car market was already flooded in the area with other dealerships which forced him to have to close in late 1988. All that pesky competition stealing Regis’ thunder! The side investment may not have paid off, but it made for an interesting divergence from his talk show. They do say car salesclerks need to be good at talking after all.

Major health scare

High cholesterol triggered a coronary heart disease scare, which led to Philbin taking on a very new role – becoming a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Later, in 1993, Philbin made an exercise video titled ‘Regis: My Personal Workout’ after he had to undergo an angioplasty. That wasn’t the last of his heart troubles, unfortunately, as, in March 2007, Philbin had to undergo a triple bypass surgery due to plaque in his arteries. He later went on to speak publicly to David Letterman who had had a quintuple bypass himself.

The growth of the millionaires

Before the turn of the century, game show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ had its debut with Philbin at the helm. While originally meant to be an occasional show, its popularity skyrocketed and frequent episodes and series were aired instead. Later the number of views slowly began to decline, and the show was canceled. In 2002 the show was brought back, but instead hosted by Meredith Vieira who continues to host it today. ABC did, however, bring Philbin back in ‘Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire’ but this spin-off had a shorter showing schedule.

Regaining his old spot

Although Philbin hosts his variation of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’, he has also been on the celebrity version of the game show and often comes back for special editions and as a guest host. In 2001, his job as host on the show won him the ‘Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game Show Host’, as well as being on the list of ‘15 Best Game Show Hosts in History’, and being honored in a special game show hall of fame.

Live! with no sidekick

Kathie Lee left Philbin in 2000, and the television show was named just ‘Live! with Regis’ for a time. Co-hosts would come on to help fill the role as Philbin was searching for a replacement. That is when Kelly Ripa came onto the scene and took the position as permanent co-host. The show was then renamed ‘Live! with Regis and Kelly’ in 2001. The show was a success due to the bond the pair had, and it continued to have very high ratings.

A world record holder

Setting the Guinness World Record for ‘Most Hours on Camera’ was no easy feat for Philbin as he clocked up a total of 15,188 hours – that’s over 632 days straight! Not content with that number, he went on to beat his record in 2006, and again in 2011 with a total of 16,746 hours or nearly 698 days! Philbin still holds the record to this day, and it works out to an average of one hour a day throughout his complete 50-year career.

A song in his heart

Not only has Philbin now got a world record title under his belt, but he also has a minor singing career. Having been described as resembeling Frank Sinatra meets Dean Martin and Perry Como, his first album flopped. He occasionally sang on his own show and released another album in 2004. It was in 2005 when ‘The Regis Philbin Christmas Album’ was released, including several duets with friends; the public was then able to hear Philbin and the current president’s rendition of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’! Dreamy…

This is Your Life

‘This is Your Life’ was being remade on ABC, and Philbin took the role of host in November 2005, but by August 2006 it was reported that his contract had run out and he wouldn’t be renewing it. However, by this time Philbin was signed up to host the first season of the new show ‘America’s Got Talent’ on NBC. He would be flying between LA and NYC to film this as well as his show, which led to him being replaced for the talent show due to difficulty commuting.

20th anniversary

September 14, 2007, saw the 20th anniversary for the ‘Live!’ show and Philbin celebrated with a special guest appearance from Kathie Lee Gifford. It wouldn’t be long though before Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa were to have a major clash. The host was set to retire from the show in 2011, but after telling Ripa the news, she reportedly took it personally.

Still sore feelings

In 2017 Philbin was questioned as to whether he had kept in contact with Ripa, to which he said he hadn’t. He reportedly said that he didn’t leave because of any problems with Kelly, and he was hurt by the fact he hadn’t been asked to go back to the show after leaving, although he was asked back on for the Halloween special in 2015. When talking to the show’s producers, it was reportedly said that the invitation for Philbin to return onto the show had always been an open one.

Kelly and Michael

After Philbin and Ripa went their separate ways, the producers of Live! scrambled to try to find someone who could replace Philbin, which was not an easy task. After numerous auditions for the spot, Michael Strahan, former NFL player, officially joined Kelly as co-host in 2012. The 6ft 4″ football hero was the perfect match for the cheerful 5ft 2″ host. Fans were pleased at the new duo’s television spark, and it seemed like Philbin was successfully replaced after all.

Michael’s departure

However, when Strahan announced his surprise departure from the show in April 2016, fans were shocked and Ripa felt, once again, blind-sighted. Although she said some nice words on air to Strahan, including wishing him luck in his next job at Good Morning America, what came after was not a pretty sight. For the remaining month that the two co-hosts had together, Ripa continued to make discreet jabs at Strahan on the show, including poking fun at his love life and contract negotiations.

Re-launching the show

The Live! show is now set to have a new co-host joining Kelly Ripa as Ryan Seacrest will soon be taking the reins in the new season, which would be named ‘Live with Kelly and Ryan’. Seacrest was chosen after having 68 other different people try out for the role before they settled on him! The signature host chat will continue at the beginning of every episode, but now between the two new co-hosts themselves.

Giving good advice

On the news that Seacrest would be taking over the role as co-host, Philbin reportedly had some advice to offer the newbie. He revealed that when he was hosting, he would be concerned the night before for his host-chat section of the show. Philbin would always ensure he was doing something so he could have something to discuss, and that was exactly what he advised Seacrest to do. According to Ripa though, Seacrest didn’t need help (ouch, catty) as he had been hosting American Idol until its cancellation in April 2016.

Keeping busy still

The now 86-year old Philbin recently had a new project in the form of ‘The Little Giant’. This included a recorded story following on from the tale of David and Goliath. The premise, according to the author of the story Kathie Lee Gifford, explores how people can use the stone that God has given them to defeat their own giants. Philbin recorded the voice of the character Jesse on the CD which was released at the end of September 2017.

Acting credits

Philbin pretty much refused to relax after his retirement from Live!, and has continued to make television appearances ever since. Over the last few years he has taken on numerous acting roles in series such as Hot in Cleveland, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Damages, New Girl, Donny! and The Odd Couple. He has even worked as a voice actor and recently voiced the Easter Bunny in Cartoon Network’s Uncle Grandpa.

Keeping up with appearances

Since he has retired as a host, the former Live! co-host has been focusing on taking the other seat for a change, as a guest. And it is clear that he is having fun in the process. He has appeared on multiple different talk shows such as The Talk, Home & Family, Entertainment Tonight, Today and is a regular celebrity guest in Rachel Ray’s kitchen. He even recently appeared on Snoop Dog’s new gameshow, The Joker’s Wild.

Social media king

Regis is also pretty active on social media, and has a Twitter page with over 34 thousand followers. His bio reads, “17,000 hours on TV and counting, just try and stop me!” He frequently uses his page to share photos and videos of himself from recent guest appearances, alongside his wife Joy, or giving birthday shout outs to friends like Kathy Lee Gifford and Tony Bennett. Although there are several tweets from Kathie Lee Gifford, including one that wished her former co-host a happy birthday, there is nothing from Kelly Ripa.

Awkward reunion

Sadly Regis and Kelly, who appeared so close on TV, are still not on good terms, and it doesn’t seem like they will be making up anytime soon. The two former co-hosts, who spent years together working side by side, have barely spoken since Regis’ last day on Live!. Even when Regis returned on Live!’s Halloween special in 2015, the behind the scenes footage showed a very awkward exchange between the two who hadn’t seen each other since their last day on air together.

Philbin’s return?

After Strahan’s departure from Live!, rumors spread like wildfire that Philbin would be making a possible comeback 5 years later and return to his original spot. He even admitted in an interview that he missed hosting, so the idea didn’t seem so far-fetched. An inside source claimed that ABC asked the former host to come back for a temporary spot on the show as Ripa’s co-host, but Ripa quickly shot down the idea.

Why he left, in his own words

Years after ‘Live with Regis and Kelly’ ended, in early 2017, Regis said in an interview with Larry King that he and his former co-host did not part amicably, and that Kelly was offended by his departure from the show. Apparently Kelly believed that she was the reason for the departure. Regis said that that was not true, and stated: “I was leaving because I was getting older and it was not right for me anymore.”