Tragic details about Regis Philbin
Regis Philbin wasn’t always on a television screen, but his smiling face and infectious character were beamed out to millions of viewers more than anybody else’s. In 2011, Guinness World Records calculated that he’d logged more than 16,000 hours on TV — the most of any performer in American history.
First making an impression in the 1960s on programs like The Joey Bishop Show, Philbin became an iconic and constant TV presence with the 1988 launch of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, a breezy talk show where Philbin could be his loud, boisterous, inquisitive self, excitedly bombarding celebrity guests with questions and fascinating viewers with chit-chat about his off-screen life. In 1999, Philbin headed up the cultural phenomenon of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — a game show so popular that it ran in primetime several nights a week, generated the catchphrase “Is that your final answer?” and inspired millions of men to imitate Philbin’s monochromatic style of dress.
Philbin was the very personification of good and happy feelings, but his life wasn’t always so bright and sunny. Here are some of the sadder and more troubling events in the life of Regis Philbin.
Regis Philbin loved, lost, and loved again
While it would be Regis Philbin who would one day become one of the most famous entertainers in the world, when he got married for the first time, it was his wife who was more recognizable for her on-screen work. In 1955, according to Entertainment Tonight, he wed actress Kay Faylen, who’d landed roles in TV shows of the era, but would give up acting by the end of the decade.
Together, they had two children, daughter Amy in 1961, and son Daniel in 1967, per Closer Weekly. Unfortunately, the marriage had its share of problems, and Philbin and Faylen’s union ended in divorce in 1968. (Fortunately for Philbin, he’d find love again and marry Joy Senese in 1970, with whom he had two more daughters, author Joanna and TV writer J.J.)
However, he apparently wasn’t much of a doting dad to the kids from the first marriage, according to Judy Philbin, the ex-wife of Regis’ son, in a 2018 interview with Radar Online. Daniel, who had both of his legs amputated due to a spinal cord birth defect and struggled with depression, was reportedly placed in an institution by his father. Judy also claimed that daughter Amy battled substance abuse, alleging that Regis tried to help in 2006 by buying a reportedly “near death” Amy a barely habitable house.
According to the National Enquirer, Regis’ health reportedly deteriorated amid these allegations, with a source claiming, “Regis desperately wants to make amends and heal all the wounds before he goes.”
It took Regis Philbin years to land a successful TV show
Regis Philbin hosted the nationally-syndicated version of the talk show, Live, from 1988 to 2011, making his run one of the most successful and enduring host-and-show pairings in TV history. It was a long-awaited and hard-earned triumph for Philbin, who suffered through decades of flops before he really clicked with viewers.
In 1964, his San Diego-based The Regis Philbin Show went national and performed so poorly in its late nighttime slot (against the juggernaut of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson) that producers fired Philbin after four months and replaced him with Merv Griffin, according to Slate. In 1967, Philbin joined ABC’s wannabe Carson-killer The Joey Bishop Show, serving as the host’s Ed McMahon-like sidekick. That show lasted just two low-rated years. In the ’70s, Philbin’s biggest national TV projects were the short-lived game shows, The Neighbors and Almost Anything Goes.
However, in 1981, he got another chance at talk with a daytime show on NBC, co-hosted by Entertainment Tonight‘s Mary Hart … which made it just 18 weeks before cancellation, according to Forbes. Regis Philbin may have worked hard at television, but it took him awhile to get the hang of it.
Regis Philbin's son died young
In 2009, ex-daughter-in-law Judy Philbin told the National Enquirer (via Radar Online) that she and her then-husband, Daniel Philbin (estranged son of Regis Philbin), couldn’t find work and had grown so financially destitute that they had to borrow money for food and couldn’t afford health insurance. This was especially problematic since Daniel was a double amputee who made use of a wheelchair. When the elder Philbin heard about it, he reached out to his son with financial assistance and reconciliation.
Earlier in the decade (according to the National Enquirer, via Radar Online), Daniel had earned honors from the U.S. Department of Defense. He worked in the agency’s public affairs office at the Pentagon and was in the building on Sept. 11, 2001 when a terrorist-hijacked airplane crashed into it. He stayed dutifully on the job during the fiery nightmare. “This bravery and dedication were not without cost,” read the special citation in part, “as he was hospitalized later for several days.”
Daniel Philbin died in November 2014 at age 49. At the time, he was still in contact with his famous father, who reportedly attended his son’s funeral.
Regis Philbin had a secret brother who died
The signature element that Regis Philbin brought to his own shows (and the talk show game in general) was his top-of-the-episode casual chat about the news of the day and the goings-on in his personal life. Philbin spoke about most anything and everything, but never his only sibling.
Frank Philbin was born long after his TV personality brother and served as a pilot in the Air Force and flew for Delta Airlines for 25 years. “He was a lot younger than I was. I was at Notre Dame when he was born, so I kind of grew up not knowing him because I was out in Hollywood knocking on doors when he was in grammar school,” Philbin said on Live with Regis and Kelly in 2007 (via the New York Post). Regis never much mentioned Frank in any way in order to honor a request. “Years ago, when I was still working in Hollywood, I mentioned that he was a pilot in the Air Force, a captain. Oh boy, did I get chewed out,” Regis recalled. “He said, ‘Please, I don’t want to be mentioned.'”
During a 2004 visit with Frank, Regis noticed that he “looked different,” and after complaining of neck and back pain, Frank received a diagnosis of incurable cancer of the lymph nodes. In early 2007, the cancer spread to his liver, and in February of that year, Frank Philbin passed away at age 55.
Leaving Live was a sad affair for Regis Philbin
In January 2011, Regis Philbin shocked the TV world when he announced on an episode of Live with Regis and Kelly (via ABC News) that he’d leave the show before the year was out, ending a nearly three-decade run. His last episode arrived that November, and while it was a teary and emotional farewell, Philbin went on NPR’s Fresh Air to make it perfectly clear that he was not retiring, but rather “moving on.”
To that end, Philbin’s reasons for leaving Live were unclear. According to The Hollywood Reporter, some sources close to Philbin said he was reportedly tired of the long and early hours, others claimed he didn’t want to sign a contract extension that would pay him less and limit his TV work outside of Live, and yet more suggested it was some combination of both.
But no matter the means for his departure, Philbin’s relationship with Kelly Ripa, his co-host of 10 years, reportedly soured once they stopped working together. In 2013, Ripa told The Hollywood Reporter that she hadn’t seen Philbin since he quit. When asked on Larry King Now in 2017 if he and Ripa were still in touch, Philbin admitted, “Not really, no.” He claimed that Ripa “got very offended when [he] left,” adding, “She thought I was leaving because of her. I was leaving because I was getting older and that wasn’t right for me anymore.”
Regis Philbin's comeback attempts fizzled out
True to his word, after his last episode at Live aired in November 2011, Regis Philbin did in fact simply move on from the show, rather than straight-up retiring from showbiz. He’d worked in television for several decades, and it was the only world he’d known, so it’s understandable that he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to broadcasting.
In August 2013, Philbin returned with his first regular TV gig, one with a slightly lower profile than a nationally-syndicated talk show or primetime game show: Crowd Goes Wild, a panel sports talk show on brand-new cable network Fox Sports 1 that HuffPost likened to The View. Unfortunately for Philbin and his want and need to work, the show was canceled just eight months after it debuted.
Even into his eighties and with that auspicious follow-up to Live, Philbin still wasn’t ready to leave TV. According to Radar Online, he reportedly tried to persuade his former co-host, Kathie Lee Gifford, who had just left Today, to revive their duo act in 2019. “Regis is begging Kathie Lee to go out on the road with him and play theaters and casinos,” a friend claimed to the outlet. “Regis feels like he needs a partner to make his act work.” Gifford, reportedly worried over Philbin’s worsening health issues, apparently dismissed the idea, as the tour never happened.
Regis Philbin had a lot of health issues
Regis Philbin was seemingly as vibrant and healthy on the inside as he was outwardly vigorous. However, when he was on a vacation in Florida in 1992, according to Everyday Health, the then-61-year-old experienced a bout of intense chest pains. He sought medical attention, where he underwent an angioplasty procedure and learned that he had a dangerously high total cholesterol level of 300.
Thus began Philbin’s long struggle to keep his heart healthy. Prescription drugs and lifestyle changes staved off doom, but in 2007, he announced on Live with Regis and Kelly (via CNN) that he was about to undergo a triple bypass surgery on the advice of more than one physician. The procedure would help get rid of built-up plaque in his arteries.
Philbin also endured other parts of his body giving out as he aged. In 2009, the then-78-year-old host revealed on Live (via TV Guide) that he had a hip replacement surgery scheduled. The following year, he mentioned on his show, per USA Today, that he’d been experiencing such tremendous leg pain that walking had become difficult, noting that, in order to alleviate that, he had to have a blood clot in his calf removed.
Regis Philbin passed away
Regis Philbin compiled an impressive career as a broadcaster, game show host, and an all-around chatty, curious, funny, energetic guy who clearly loved to make and be on television. It goes without saying, then, that he left quite the decades-long legacy behind when he passed away at age 88, according to Variety, on the evening of July 24, 2020.
“His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him — for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about,” Philbin’s family said in a statement. The TV personality was pronounced dead at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Conn., and an official with the local medical examiner’s office told TMZ that the cause of death was heart disease.
The celeb and fan tributes poured in over the next few hours. Longtime Live co-host, Kathie Lee Gifford, shared a heartfelt tribute on Instagram, writing in part, “There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend.” Meanwhile, Live successors Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest released a joint statement on Ripa’s Instagram that labeled Philbin “the ultimate class act” who brought “his laughter and joy into our homes everyday.” Even the President of the United States offered his condolences. “One of the greats in the history of television, Regis Philbin has passed on to even greater airwaves,” Donald Trump wrote on Twitter. “He was a fantastic person.”
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