Colleagues called him “the hardest working man in show business,” but to everyone else, he was just “Reeg.” With an unassuming air and soft-spoken demeanor, Regis made each morning sit-down feel like coffee with a good friend, guaranteeing him a regular place at our breakfast tables — after all, he really was just another part of the family.
But despite a 60-year career, it was the 15 he spent alongside Kathie Lee Gifford that truly made him a household name. The two were a match made in TV heaven, but Kathie Lee’s incredible final encounter with Regis proves their relationship went far deeper than just the witty banter.
Yet the story of Regis and Kathie Lee didn’t begin on the set of Live. In June 1985, a wide-eyed Kathie Lee Johnson stepped center stage alongside Regis Philbin for the first time to serve as the replacement co-host of the New York local talk show The Morning Show.
Despite the 32-year-old rookie and 54-year-old veteran being dubbed “mismatched” by some media outlets, Regis and Kathie Lee’s chemistry was immediate. Ratings soared behind the duo’s playful back-and-forth, an aspect of the program executive producer Michael Gelman knew could be a major selling point to audiences.
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“The real concept of the show, in a symbolic sense, is that they are husband and wife,” he revealed. “They have their coffee mugs and they’re chit-chatting about what’s going on.” But as The Morning Show reached number one in the market, it was clear the appeal of Regis and Kathie Lee went beyond just New Yorkers.
And so, the show was nationally syndicated in 1988, taking on the name of Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee. Millions of Americans joined the dynamic duo each morning for interviews, trivia, and lifestyle segments, though it was the first 15 minutes of ad-lib between Regis and Kathie Lee that really resonated with audiences.
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“Everything on television these days is either written or over-rehearsed and there isn’t room for the smaller things in life that everybody goes through,” Regis said. “People relate to that, and they find those small little stories so appealing that they want to tune in the next day to find out what happened last night.”
One popular topic during these signature “Host Chats” was their personal lives, especially Kathie Lee’s. The bubbly host would gush over home and family life with her sportscaster husband Frank Gifford — unfortunately, this topic soon turned from one of great pride to one of scandal.
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In 1997, it was revealed that Frank had been engaging in a number of extramarital affairs, sending news outlets into a frenzy. The media circus weighed heavily on Kathie Lee both personally and professionally, though, through it all, she always knew she could look to Regis for support.
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“[They] were the most painful times of my life, for sure. But I always knew Regis had my back. He always protected me on the air,” she told People. “I was never going to let what the world said about me define me. And he always supported me in all of that.”
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Yet the intense media scrutiny eventually became too much for Kathie Lee, and on July 28, 2000, she made her emotional departure from Live after 15 years on the show. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be the end of America’s most beloved talk show duo.
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During Regis’ ten years opposite Kelly Ripa on Live! with Regis and Kelly, Kathie Lee made three guest appearances — first to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary in 2007 and then again to promote her book in 2009. She was even there to bid Regis farewell before his own departure from the show in 2011.
Regis returned the favor a year later, appearing on Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda for a brief chat with his former co-host. Most people assumed these occasional reunions were just to drum up viewership, but those close to the pair knew the truth: Regis and Kathie Lee were true friends.
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The two were often seen out and about in New York City and Los Angeles, usually grabbing a bite to eat together one-on-one. Regis even revealed in 2015 that he and his wife, Joy, regularly visited Kathie Lee and Frank at their Connecticut home, calling themselves “weekenders” at the Gifford residence.
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That same year, Regis was the one to induct Kathie Lee into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, telling the audience, “She’s one of those ladies you don’t meet in this business. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. She can handle anything that comes her way, and I just think she’s terrific.”
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Then, when Kathie Lee stepped down from The Today Show in 2018, Regis was once again there with heartfelt words for his dear friend: “Kathie Lee, you want to know the best part of my life, my TV life, was in the 15 years I spent with you from 1985 to 2000.”
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Sadly, he wouldn’t be around to see Kathie Lee into this new chapter of her life, for on July 24, 2020, Regis died of a heart attack at his Greenwich, Connecticut, home. Hollywood was devastated by the loss of the legendary television host, but for Kathie Lee, the hurt ran much deeper.
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That’s because Regis, Joy, and Kathie Lee had “laughed [themselves] sick” on Kathie Lee’s back porch just two weeks prior. “After they left, I thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I am going to see my friend?'” she recalled on Today. “Because he was failing. I could tell.”
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But following Regis’ passing, Kathie Lee learned her final moments with her longtime friend had meant more to him than she knew: “It was so precious because when I talked to Joy the day I found out right after he had passed, she said, ‘Kathie, he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.'”
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“[Joy] said, ‘The day we came to have lunch with you was the last time I heard him laugh,'” she continued. “That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh again with one of my best friends in all of my lifetime.”
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Tributes poured out by the millions for the late, great Regis, though, unsurprisingly, Kathie Lee’s struck the most heartfelt chord: “We spent 15 years together bantering and bickering and laughing ourselves silly — a tradition and a friendship we shared up to this very day. I smile knowing somewhere in Heaven, at this very moment, he’s making someone laugh.”
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Regis Philbin’s death is yet another in a long, long list of reasons the year 2020 really hasn’t panned out the way most people expected. Yet between all the chaos that’s capped off this new decade, we actually lost a handful of other legendary celebrities that most people never even realized were gone.
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During a sixty-year career, Kenny Rogers landed 24 hits at number one on the charts, and sold over 50 million albums in the United States. His song “The Gambler” won a Grammy and was covered by many artists, including Johnny Cash.
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Known as the “Queen of Suspense,” Mary Higgins Clark was a #1 New York Times bestselling author of 51 books. She sold over 100 million copies in the U.S. alone.
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Best known for his roles in Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family, Fred Willard also contributed characters to comedy classics like This Is Spinal Tap, the Anchorman movies, and Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries.
An awarded filmmaker known for movies such as Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister, Lynn Shelton began her career as an editor before taking the plunge into directing in her 30s. Her work screened at Sundance, Cannes, and South by Southwest.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” now that Bill Withers is gone, but we’re sure he’s having a “Lovely Day” making tunes in the great beyond. Withers was nominated for nine Grammys throughout his career, won three, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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Betty Wright rose to prominence in the soul genre in the late 1970s for her hits “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight Is The Night,” and became well-known for her skill singing in “whistle register,” the highest register of the human voice.
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After he played Eddie Haskell on the television classic Leave It to Beaver, Ken Osmond took an equally exciting career turn as an LAPD officer, where he spent twenty years before retiring after being struck — and uninjured — by five bullets.
The shock helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and his teenage daughter Gianna rocked the world almost as much as his legendary NBA career. After announcing his retirement from basketball in 2015, Bryant was starting a new life phase as a father and entrepreneur.
Phyllis George’s many accomplishments included authoring five books, becoming the first female co-anchor of The NFL Today, selling a company to Hormel Foods, serving as the First Lady of Kentucky, and winning the crowns of Miss Texas and Miss America.
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Singer and songwriter John Prine built a five-decade career in the Americana genre by virtue of his soulful, and often humorous tunes. He collaborated with countless other artists and won three Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Katherine Johnson graduated college summa cum laude at age 18 and went on to become one of the first black women scientists at NASA. Her calculations for orbital mechanics were instrumental to the first U.S. human spaceflights, and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
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An artist versed in both stage and on-camera acting, Brian Dennehy got an informal acting education while working as a truck driver in his thirties, and levied that knowledge into a long career, winning Golden Globes, Tonys, and Emmys alike.
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The longtime comedian, and half of husband-and-wife comedy duo Stiller and Meara, passed from natural causes. Jerry Stiller was best known for his roles in Seinfeld and The King of Queens.
“Bear” Vasquez skyrocketed to internet fame in January 2010 after he posted an incredulous video of himself reacting to a double rainbow in Yosemite National Park. His joyful spirit made for one of the best internet moments of the decade.
Max von Sydow began his career working with legendary director Ingmar Bergman and continued featuring in high-profile projects, like Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in the following century.
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Beloved Strega Nona children’s author Tomie dePaola wrote and illustrated over 260 books over the course of a delightful career. He sold 25 million copies of his works and was lauded with a Caldecott Honor and Newbery Medal.
A star behind the camera, Theodore Gaffney famously photographed the Freedom Riders during their segregation protests in 1961. He was also one of the first black photographers in the White House.
A well-known British actress and television presenter, Caroline Flack had a longtime working relationship with the BBC and ITV2, and hosted reality competition shows like The X Factor and Love Island. She took her own life.
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Best known for her roles as Magda in the Sex and the City movies and series and Mags in the Hunger Games series — we’re seeing a pattern here! — Lynn Cohen was a bright soul who played strong characters.
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A star if there ever was one, Kirk Douglas began his career in the 1940s and continued on through the ’80s. His individual personality and charisma were unique in that, unlike those of many other stars, they stayed present inside his characters.
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