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Regis Philbin became perhaps TV's greatest-ever host by being himself

  • "What is a host? A person to welcome you in, to make you comfortable, to show you around and tell you what you need to know. To introduce you to other people you might find interesting. To take any space and make it a home," says Robert Lloyd. "Regis Philbin, who died Friday, a month before his 89th birthday, was a host. Maybe the greatest of all hosts, if only for the number and variety of shows he hosted: talk shows, game shows, parades, pageants. As has been widely noted, he holds the Guinness World Record for most hours spent on television, a record that will likely stand until the end of television itself. But he was great too for his capacity to enjoy people — contrasting his ongoing struggle with things, gadgets and gizmos — at least as they came before him on a television stage. (As to 'people,' in the collective, he might wonder, 'What the hell is wrong with them?') He could work himself into a lather in an instant and an instant later be laughing at himself and everything. As his life in media transitioned from daily presence to delightful surprise, he was finally just Regis, a magnet for love. Philbin in his early days was energetic, enthusiastic and personable. (Although he was a New Yorker to the core, he was for many years a West Coast broadcaster, including his first national notice as the sidekick on Joey Bishop’s late 1960s talk show, and also as the co-host for many years of A.M. Los Angeles.) But once he claimed a space and made it his, as he did with Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee, it was clear he could stick around until he decided to go. He could let his character fill the space, let his freak flag fly, as it were, within the bounds of old-school professionalism. His job was to be himself, which America agreed was a good thing, and that gave him room to grow even more cantankerous with age. There is a somnolent gentleness to the big network morning shows, as if they want to ease you out of slumber into the day, before your eyes are fully open. Philbin was something else again — energetic, extroverted, irritable, relishing tales of mishap." Lloyd adds that Philbin "felt knowable," especially with his slew of TV appearances. "Indeed," says Lloyd, "the sheer number of TV series and films in which he appears as himself — including, but not limited to, The Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You, All My Children, Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpsons, Caroline in the City, Spin City, How I Met Your Mother, Damages, Ugly Betty, 30 Rock and Fresh Off the Boat on the smaller screen and Night and the City, Cheaper by the Dozen and The Breakup Artist on the bigger — attests to his cultural eminence. There were also, from early on, more or less straight acting parts in Get Smart, That Girl, Love, American Style, Fantasy Island, Hot in Cleveland and the soap opera Ryan’s Hope, where he acquits himself well enough to suggest that he might have had a career reading other people’s words instead of speaking off the top of his head. And, of course, there was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which he hosted in its original and some subsequent iterations, the first season of America’s Got Talent, Million Dollar Password and so forth and so on."


    • Kathie Lee Gifford last saw Regis Philbin about two weeks ago, says "he was failing, I could tell": “I was up from Tennessee, where I live most of the time, and of course the first call I always make is to Regis and Joy (Philbin),” Gifford said on Monday’s Today show. “I said, ‘Can we get together, can we have some lunch?’ So they came over about two weeks ago.” Gifford said "we just had the best time." But after the Philbins left, Gifford said, “I just thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I’m going to see my friend?’ Cause he was failing, I could tell.”
    • Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest recalled on Live this morning learning about Regis Philbin's death: Ripa said she and husband Mark Consuelos "were lucky enough to have all of our children with us this past weekend on Saturday, so we were all together when we heard this horrible news. As people get older, you always know that certain things are inevitable, and passing away is one of those things, but Regis is one of the people that we all believed would somehow figure out a way around the inevitable. It was not in the cards, I suppose.” Seacrest added: "I got a text in the morning on this day over the weekend, and I actually didn’t believe it. … It was before the news came out, and I sent you a note and I said, ‘I hope this is just a rumor and not true.’ For a minute, I convinced myself it was just a rumor, and then of course we saw the news.”
    • Regis Philbin was utterly ubiquitous on TV for decades until his 2011 retirement: "He was one of those personalities who was always so around, for so long, that it didn’t seem like he’d ever disappear completely from the pop-cultural landscape or, for that matter, this world," says Jen Chaney. "While he retired back in 2011 from his long run on Live!, the chatty morning show he first co-hosted with Kathie Lee Gifford and later with Kelly Ripa, he continued to make TV appearances on various talk shows and sitcoms such as Hot in Cleveland, New Girl, Fresh Off the Boat and, most recently this past April, the ABC comedy Single Parents. That Single Parents performance, in which he played himself and inadvertently distracted Taran Killam’s Will from witnessing the birth of his daughter, was his one of his final times on television; fittingly, it was on a show co-created by one of his daughters, writer and producer J.J. Philbin. If it felt like Regis — we can call him Regis, because America was on a first-name basis with him — 'went away' after leaving Live!, that was only because he was so utterly ubiquitous in the years prior. In the 2000s, it was possible in a single day to see him in the morning trading barbs with Ripa on Live!, on primetime asking Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestants if that was their final answer, and on late night, good-naturedly sparring with David Letterman on his Late Show...Because he was a host who liked to improvise, many Americans felt like they knew Regis Philbin. Even if you never watched him play verbal ping-pong with Kathie Lee during their dozen years on the air, or greet Ripa with the nickname 'Pippa' during their decade together, you somehow were aware that Regis’s beloved wife’s name was Joy, or that he went to Notre Dame University. This information seeped into the brain unbidden because Regis was everywhere, omnipresent. He was a personality in the truest sense of that word, but he also was authentic. He never seemed like a phony or someone who was trying to be someone other than himself. There aren’t many TV-show hosts about whom that can be said. Now there’s one fewer."
    • The kind of TV personality represented by Philbin has become an almost lost art
    • Regis was exactly the guy you saw on TV, even when pitching him on a TV show outside his gym in 2016
    • Regis dressed as Shrek on The Late Show went viral after his death
    • Watch Good Morning America's tribute to Regis Philbin
    • Regis Philbin will be buried at his alma mater, University of Notre Dame, where his funeral service will also be held

    TOPICS: Regis Philbin, ABC, Good Morning America, Late Show with David Letterman, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Live with Regis and Kelly, Today Show, Kathie Lee Gifford, Kelly Ripa, Ryan Seacrest, Daytime TV