LOS ANGELES _ Morning TV viewers today are remembering Regis Philbin, who died Friday of natural causes.
Self-effacing and given to amusing and sometimes sarcastic banter about the mundane ups and downs of life _ a visit from his mother-in-law, a night at the Mets game _ Philbin became a familiar and comfortable guest in America’s living rooms while perfecting the format of television morning talk shows.
Known affectionately as “Reege” and “Outregis,” it was his avuncular charm that endeared him to legions of fans who tuned in for his unscripted tete-a-tetes each morning as the host of ABC’s “Live!” with co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and, later, Kelly Ripa. To preserve authenticity and ensure spontaneity during their conversations, Philbin refused to talk with his co-hosts before they went on the air.
The show’s executive producer said Philbin’s on-screen persona was not an act.
“People probably think Regis turns it on for TV,” Michael Gelman said in 2004. “They think they are seeing ‘TV Regis.’ Regis on TV is Regis off TV.”
At age 80, and after more than 56 years on TV in Los Angeles and New York, Philbin departed “Live!” during an emotional finale. Some said Philbin was finally tired of the daily grind and the early hours and wanted an easier life. He was replaced by the affable NFL player turned analyst Michael Strahan, who co-hosted with Ripa until he bowed out in 2016.
Health issues dogged Philbin since the 1990s. In 1993, he underwent emergency angioplasty to unblock a heart vessel. In 2007, he had to have triple-bypass heart surgery. Two years later, he had hip replacement surgery, followed by the removal of a potentially fatal blood clot in 2010. His struggled with high cholesterol, blood pressure, and severe acid reflux.
His fortunes took off in 1983 when Gifford, the wife of NFL legend Frank Gifford, finally settled into the chair next to Philbin, ratings improved and the “Morning Show” was renamed “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” and was syndicated nationally.
The twosome became an establishment and the opening gab session, which generally centered on Philbin’s stories about what happened to him at home or out and about the night before, became a trademark. Everyone and everything _ including his wife, teenage daughters, newspaper reporters and especially his perky blond co-host _ were ripe for his brand of ribbing.
Philbin and Lee came across as a pair of friends unafraid to have run at the expense of the other. He teased her about her hair, clothes and husband. She accused him of spitting all over her when he got worked up.
Gifford left “Live!” in 2000. After trying out several co-hosts, Philbin teamed up with Kelly Ripa. The partnership last more than a decade before Regis decided to step aside.
“There is a time that everything must come to an end for certain people on camera, especially certain old people,” he joked at the time. When Ripa reminded him that the show would go on after he left, he deadpanned: “You mean the show isn’t wrapping up?”
But Philbin never disappeared completely. He didn’t fully retire after signing off “Live!” Philbin returned to television frequently, hosting and contributing to a bevy of projects. He was a familiar face on NBC’s “Today,” reuniting with Gifford when he joined the morning show as a contributor in its fourth hour in 2015.
Philbin is survived by his wife of 50 years, Joy Philbin, and three daughters: J.J., Joanna and Amy. (The latter is his daughter with his first wife, Catherine Faylen. Philbin and Faylen had another child, Daniel, who died in 2014.) Philbin is also survived by two grandchildren.