Kathie Lee Gifford Describes Her Last Visit With Regis Philbin: ‘I Sensed Much More Fragility in Him’
Before co-hosting Today with Kathie Lee & Hoda, Kathie Lee Gifford shared the stage for 15 years with television legend Regis Philbin. The pair headlined the popular morning show Live with Regis & Kathie Lee from 1985 until Gifford left in 2000, passing her chair on to Kelly Ripa.
The two remained close friends over the years. After Philbin’s family announced his death on July 24, 2020, Gifford shared her thoughts regarding the last time she saw her dear friend.
Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford created TV magic
Philbin and Gifford became morning’s must see TV program. From 1985 to 2000, the two made early-hour banter an art form. Their spontaneous on-air conversations gave viewers a birds-eye view into their lives along with a lot of laughs.
“When we first started, we had no idea what we had, but we knew what we didn’t want,” Gifford told Today. “We didn’t want writers, we didn’t want a million producers, we didn’t want it overproduced. We just wanted to sit there and have fun together.”
Gifford revealed one of their keys to success was waiting to start any conversation until they were in front of the cameras.
“We never talked before the show. We didn’t have what they call ‘elements’ in our business,” the former Today host shared. “He’d hold up the newspaper, and we’re off to the races. Or I’d say, (my son) Cody threw up, and we were off to the races. We never planned it.”
Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin went from co-hosts to lifelong friends
Launching the now infamous morning talk show, Gifford and Philbin began their relationship as colleagues. They shared a professional understanding that solidified their partnership.
“You know, in all the years we were together, we never had one cross word.” Gifford revealed. “He was an entertainer in his guts, and so was I. So when we came together, although we didn’t have a friendship yet, we had a mutual respect for what we had accomplished already in our careers. We had the same sense of humor … and we just took off like a rocket.”
Gifford recalled her former co-host’s humble spirit and gratitude for his success over the years, and the reason for their electric chemistry.
“He was the most grateful person in the world, he never forgot where he came from,” she said of Philbin. “He was just happy to be on a set. We had the biggest secret known to the whole world but they don’t do it. We had fun — F – U – N and it’s contagious.”
Kathie Lee Gifford’s final visit with her friend
While speaking with her pal and former Today co-host Hoda Kotb, Gifford shared some details of her recent visit with Philbin when she was in the New York area.
“[Regis and wife Joy] came over about two weeks ago. I saw Reg get out of the car with Joy and I sensed much more fragility in him than I’d seen in him since the last time in January out in Los Angeles,” Gifford recalled. “We sat here on my screen porch and we laughed ourselves sick. We always just picked up right where we left off.”
Despite their joyful reunion, Gifford suspected this may be their last time together. “We had the best time, and after they left, I just thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I’m going to see my friend?'” she revealed. “Because he was failing, I could tell.”
After hearing the news of Philbin’s passing, Gifford went to visit Joy and their daughters. After mourning her husband Frank’s death in 2015, Gifford also wanted to be sensitive to their need for privacy.
“It’s been five years almost since Frank passed and you love your friends reaching out, but you also desperately need that private time as a family,” she explained. “I was just grateful to have the time with them and comfort them a little bit, let them know that I believed with all of my heart that I know where Regis is and I know who he’s with … I had many, many conversations with him over the years about faith.”
Gifford cherishes the time she got to spend with Philbin shortly before his passing. “I’m just so grateful the Lord gave me that final time,” she said. “That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh again with one of my best friends of all my lifetime.”