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Arts & Culture

TV Legend Regis Philbin Dead At 88; Got First Talk Show In San Diego

Television personality Regis Philbin participates in a FOX Sports 1 press event to launch the new show he will co-host called the "Crowd Goes W!ld", on Monday, July 15, 2013 in New York.
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Television personality Regis Philbin participates in a FOX Sports 1 press event to launch the new show he will co-host called the "Crowd Goes W!ld", on Monday, July 15, 2013 in New York.

Regis Philbin, the onetime host of "The Regis Philbin Show" in San Diego who went on to greater fame as the star of "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee," "Live With Regis and Kelly" and "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" on ABC, has died at age 88, his family said Saturday.

"We are deeply saddened to share that our beloved Regis Philbin passed away last night of natural causes, one month shy of his 89th birthday," the family's statement said.

"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. We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss."

Philbin holds the Guinness World Record for most hours on camera, which he set on the Aug. 20, 2004, edition of "Live! with Regis and Kelly." At the time the record — formerly held by Hugh Downs — was 15,188 hours on television, but Philbin added many more hours after that.

The Manhattan native held several jobs on Southland television shows over the years, most prominently as the co-host of the KABC morning show "A.M. Los Angeles" from 1975-81. Working with co-hosts Sarah Purcell (1975-78) and Cyndy Garvey (1978-81), Philbin took the program from worst to first in the ratings.

But his first talk show was "The Regis Philbin Show," which ran on KOGO-TV (now KGTV) in San Diego in the early 1960s, ending in 1965. Philbin served as his own writer and producer for the show, and managed to score many big-name guests, including Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Danny Thomas, and Liberace, according to 10News.

"The show became a big hit so it was time to go to Hollywood, I guess, so I did," Philbin told the station a few years ago.

He had earlier been a news anchor for KOGO.

His top-rated stint on "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee" and "Live With Regis and Kelly" in the 1990s cemented Philbin's status as a broadcast legend. The ABC show had its roots in "A.M. Los Angeles" and a similar show that aired in New York.

He then became a prime-time icon on the meteoric "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which debuted in 1999. Along the way, millions of viewers heard him rhapsodize about his beloved alma mater, Notre Dame, and its many sports and other achievements.

His former co-host Kelly Ripa paid tribute to Philbin on Instagram.

"We are beyond saddened to learn about the loss of Regis Philbin," she said. "He was the ultimate class act, bringing his laughter and joy into our homes everyday on Live for more than 23 years. We were beyond lucky to have him as a mentor in our careers and aspire everyday to fill his shoes on the show. We send our deepest love and condolences to his family and hope they can find some comfort in knowing he left the world a better place."

Other TV heavyweights weighed in too, with longtime CNN host Larry King tweeting: "Regis Philbin was such a prolific talent. He could do it all, and we loved him for it. I will miss him every day. My heartfelt condolences to Joy and his family."

ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel tweeted "Regis was a great broadcaster, a good friend and a tremendous amount of fun. He leaves behind a beautiful family and a TV legacy that will likely go unmatched. Regis, I hope our friend Rickles met you at the pearly gates with open arms and a slew of the insults you loved so much."

Among the legion of broadcast jobs he held over the years, Philbin hosted a short-lived program that replaced "The Steve Allen Show" in 1964, was Joey Bishop's sidekick on "The Joey Bishop Show" from 1967-69, and hosted "The Neighbors," a short-lived game show on ABC from late 1975 to early 1976.

He hosted "Million Dollar Password" — an updated version CBS' "Password" from 2008-09, and the first season of "America's Got Talent" in 2006.

He also wrote or co-wrote two autobiographies — "I'm Only One Man!" in 1995 and "Who Wants To Be Me?" in 2000 — and even recorded a couple of albums of pop standards.

Philbin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003, at the prime location of 6834 Hollywood Blvd., just west of Highland Avenue and on the same block as the TCL Chinese Theater.

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, King and comedian Don Rickles were among the celebrities who showed up to share in Philbin's big day.

Afterward, Philbin spoke with David Sheehan of KCAL9, who wanted to know why the TV talk show host was getting a star.

"I really don't know," he said with a laugh.

Philbin said he has reviewed movies for years and spoken to big stars and walked around Hollywood and seen all the big names, but never figured he would be among the pavement pantheon.

"I guess they've loosened up the rules lately to include people like me, but I'm grateful for it and it's a big thrill. But I don't consider myself to be in their league," he said.