Things We Learned About Regis Philbin After He Died

One charming attribute that TV personality Regis Philbin possessed was a rooted sense of humility. "There's got to be something that I do that's unusual, right?" Philbin once said to New York Magazine, when hard-pressed to unveil any of his special talents. "What's something that I've mastered?" Philbin's grounded attitude helped him win over fickle audiences, especially in his beloved New York. But for a man who claimed to lack any particular showbiz abilities, he managed to do it all, from TV host and comedic sidekick to radio announcer and recording artist. Fittingly, The New York Times remembered him as "TV's enduring everyman" when he died in 2020.

If he didn't have any showbiz instincts, he was instead quite adept at developing his skill set. The Bronx native and Notre Dame grad started as a page boy at NBC in New York and a stagehand in Los Angeles, gravitated to radio in San Diego where he polished his gab expertise. That led to his TV debut as a local talk show host, and eventually a tandem act with comedian Joey Bishop on national television. He eventually immortalized his stature in entertainment with the popular post-breakfast offering "Live!" and prime time with "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?" Fans felt they knew everything about Philbin, who never held back during his Guinness world record tenure of nearly 17,000 hours spent on U.S. television. Even so, there was still a lot to learn about him after he died.

Regis Philbin died from heart disease

On July 24, 2020, TV legend Regis Philbin died at the age of 88 in a hospital in Connecticut. "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," said his family in a statement, per Us Weekly. While it's often thought to mean "dying of old age," the phrase "natural causes" can mean anything from cancer to stroke to diabetes.

Less than a week later, a medical examiner's report revealed that Philbin's death was caused by "myocardial infarction due to coronary artery disease and hypertension," per USA Today. In short, he had a heart attack, the latest in a series of cardiac ailments that he suffered later in life, requiring a triple-bypass in one episode and an angioplasty operation in another. 

Two years before his death, Philbin revealed to news site amNewYork that he was taking statin to mitigate the likelihood of heart disease, and was working out regularly and eating in moderation. "If I knew what I know today, I probably wouldn't have eaten as many cheeseburgers and oatmeal raisin cookies and would have considered exercise as a daily part of my routine, not just an obligation that I felt forced to do," he added.

He told Donald Trump to run for president

Depending on where you sit politically, you can either blame or credit Regis Philbin in part for Donald Trump's victorious run for the White House in 2016. Among the public figures praising Philbin after he died was the 45th president, who dropped an interesting nugget on social media. "He kept asking me to run for President," tweeted Trump, who also declared the personality among TV's all-time greats. 

According to Philbin, he first met Trump while hosting the New York-based program "Morning Show" in 1983, a couple of years before it morphed into the more familiar "Live!" offering. "I thought it was going to be three and a half minutes. It ended up being 45 minutes," said Philbin to Newsday on the first of what would be several Trump appearances. "We just became friends and we've been seeing each other ever since. I think he's a great guy." It wasn't long before the two were seen together at charity events, even recording a Christmas carol in 2005. 

For his part, Philbin seldom made political comments or remarks about Trump in public, save for one impromptu interview in 2017, shortly after the New York billionaire's presidential inauguration. "So far he's done quite well," Philbin said to TMZ. "He's getting things done that were never done before. Anyway, who knows? But that's the way it is right now. We'll see, I'll give him a little more time."

Regis Philbin remained close to Kathie Lee Gifford

Of all the people Regis Philbin worked with throughout his six-decade showbiz career, Kathie Lee Gifford topped his list of favorites. The tandem began in 1985 when Kathie Lee (then using her maiden name Bates) left her "Good Morning America" perch to replace Cyndi Garvey on New York's WABC-TV's local morning program. Once the show transitioned to national syndication three years later, retitled "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee," the two were a solid must-watch combination, a chemistry that never wavered until Kathie Lee left in 2000 for family reasons. "We were each other's best audience," Kathie Lee told Tamron Hall in 2022. "I just miss him every day. I loved that man dearly."

Even after they no longer worked together, Kathie Lee said they continued to stay close, with Philbin and his wife visiting his former colleague in Tennessee every summer.  "I was with him 15 years, but it's been 20 years since I left the show," she said on the "Today" tribute following his death, "and we became dear friends through the years since then, just always getting together every chance we could." Kathie Lee told People that Philbin was a huge pillar of support, especially defending her integrity on the show in 1997 in the wake of a public adultery scandal involving her late husband, Frank Gifford. "I always knew Regis had my back," recalled Kathie Lee. "He always protected me on the air."

His relationship with Kelly Ripa was polite at best

While Regis Philbin enjoyed an on-air chemistry with Kathie Lee Gifford on "Live!" for 15 years, the same couldn't be said about Gifford's successor Kelly Ripa, who joined the show in 2001. "I don't want to feel like I'm slamming anyone or that I'm being disrespectful," said Ripa to People in 2022. "But I also want people to know it was not a cakewalk." Ripa also recalled being chastised by Philbin for showing up on her first day with her hair and makeup team. "I felt horrible," she added. "He was probably trying to be funny, but at the same time it felt like a pile-on." 

In excerpts from her book "Live Wire: Long-Winded Short Stories" (via Haute Living), Ripa said her experience with Philbin was the toughest part to write, as she frequently felt miserable during her 10 years on "Live! with Regis and Kelly." It wasn't merely an issue surrounding Philbin, with whom Ripa claims she had a professional, polite relationship, but misogyny was everywhere behind the scenes. "I want people to understand that joining 'Live,' from my perspective, was a terrifying venture," she wrote. "It was entering into a work environment that I did not understand. I think had I gone in there now, I would have been fully equipped to handle it, but back then, I was not equipped in any sense of the word."

The New York Times really got his love of Notre Dame

Regis Philbin chose to be buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery, right by his beloved Notre Dame University. The chat show great, who graduated in 1953 with a sociology degree, was so taken by his alma mater that he regularly donated funds to the university — including $2.5 million to a studio theatre that now bears his name. "Every chance I got, I used to tell people about Notre Dame, how special it was, how different it was, how great it was just to walk on that campus," he said at a Notre Dame Alumni Association function in 2012. "I told them from my heart, and I mean it, 'It's the closest experience you will ever have to being in heaven.'"

A devoted Notre Dame football fan, Philbin didn't like when The New York Times' early Sunday edition hit the presses before his team's games were typically done; he wanted the Fighting Irish coverage. As New York Times editor Tom Jolly shared following his passing, after the TV star regularly brought up the gripe on "Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee" in the '90s, the paper got creative. "The Times created an evening 'postscript,' sending updated versions of the sports pages to the press room at 6 p.m. in order to get Notre Dame game stories into the papers that went to Connecticut," Jolly tweeted. "We called it the Regis edition and we never heard another word of complaint."

He gave a lot to Catholic organizations

Whether he became famous or not, Regis Francis Xavier Philbin probably felt he had to live up to his full name. He was christened Regis after the high school his father attended, while his middle names honored a 16th century missionary. Still, Philbin seldom made a big deal about his adherence to Catholicism in public. "I think it's helped me a great deal," he said about his faith on one rare occasion with Fox News (via The Tablet) in 2014. "I think every person's religion has a factor in their lives."

After he died in 2020, a number of Catholic news outlets, such as Trenton Monitor, highlighted just how much he gave to Catholic organizations. Besides a lucrative donation to Notre Dame for a theater venue, Philbin also helped a Kentucky parish eliminate its debt, and regularly contributed funds to his old Cardinal Hayes High School (including $500,000 to renovate its auditorium) in the Bronx. He was involved in fundraisers and even gave his high school the money he won from various TV game shows. 

Helping others to continue providing spiritual guidance may have been his way to recall how he overcame his own past hardships. "You've just got to do a little prayer and hope for the best," he said to the St. Anthony Messenger (via Catholic News Agency). "I think your religion strengthens you in that regard."

Regis Philbin was planning to move to California

Regis Philbin absolutely loved New York, a city that still provided opportunities for the talk show host, who retired in 2011, to keep busy. He wound up hosting and sitting in on programs like "Piers Morgan Tonight," "Rachael Ray Show," and "The Talk," and of course, he would occasionally reunite with his former cohost Kathie Lee Gifford on "Today." Despite the affection and gigs, however, it turned out that Regis and his wife, Joy Philbin, wanted to move to California to be closer to family. They were spending more time on the West Coast after purchasing a Beverly Hills condominium for $2.5 million in 2016.

But the couple wanted to make the move more permanent in November 2019, when they put their Connecticut mansion up for sale. The Philbins were asking for nearly $4.6 million for the home, nested on 2.59 acres that included a guest house and tennis court. The English Manor-style main house sported six bedrooms, a home theater system, and a pub-style lounge area. Despite an asking price nearly 40% lower than what the Philbins paid for the digs, a sluggish market and the pandemic kept the house available for 7 months, finally selling a month before Regis died. To Joy, the sentimental value of the place must have been priceless. "We've moved around a lot and lived in many houses together but this house will always be our favorite," she said to The Wall Street Journal.

He left behind a hefty fortune

After Regis Philbin retired, he appeared on CNBC's "Fast Money," apparently seeking some investment advice. "I'm not working these days," he said to Greenlight Capital President David Einhorn at the time. "What do you got for me?" Regis needn't have worried about finances. When the personality died, he left behind an estate worth $150 million, much of it including stocks and bonds, according to Radar. Per his last will and testament that he signed in 2015 and filed in New York's Surrogate Court, Regis owned roughly $16.5 million in property including their $2.5 million Beverly Hills condo, with lots more in cash. Much of that revenue came from his extensive showbiz career of more than 60 years. Other sources include cash from sales of their approximately $4.6 million Connecticut mansion and another abode that went for a cool $3 million in 2012.

As far as who would be entitled to Regis' fortune, the TV legend was pretty clear that Joy Philbin — the will's executor — and two daughters Joanne and Jennifer would get the lion's share. The 17-page document included Regis' daughter Amy (from his first marriage to Catherine Faylen) as a beneficiary of a revocable trust, while mentioning it had "no issue" with Amy's deceased brother Daniel applying for some of the estate. The documents also included a trust listing items not mentioned in the will and a living trust citing distribution of his estate to family and friends.

Regis Philbin was depressed during the pandemic

Like many New Yorkers, Regis Philbin stayed indoors under lockdown in 2020 as part of the government's efforts to mitigate effects of the pandemic. According to his former TV partner Kathy Lee Gifford, that was a difficult time for Regis. "He had been depressed in the weeks and months [before he died], because of the COVID," she shared on an October 2020 episode of "The Talk". "Regis couldn't perform anywhere, nobody was out and about, he couldn't be Regis for people, you know. And it broke his heart." 

In July 2020, just a few days after Regis died, Gifford opened up on "Today" about how much her longtime costar struggled during the final months of his life. "So many of his friends had died," she said. "His dearest friend had died a week before, of corona, actually, he was you know ready to go." A few weeks before Regis died, Gifford had lunch with her former co-host and his wife Joy at their Connecticut home, where they shared a few laughs. After hearing about Regis' death, she called Joy Philbin, who told her that get-together was the last time he ever laughed. "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 my lifetime," Gifford added. Gifford worked with Regis for 15 years until she left in 2000 to care for her ailing father. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

He had complicated relationships with his eldest kids

When Regis Philbin died in 2020, he was survived by Joy Philbin, J.J. Philbin, Joanna Philbin, and Amy Philbin, the latter of whom is his daughter from his first marriage. Before he met Joy, Regis was married to Kay Falen, and the two became parents to Amy and Daniel Philbin. Daniel, who was born with a spinal condition and had both of his legs amputated, died in 2014 at age 49.

Throughout Regis' career, there were rumors about his relationship — or supposed lack thereof — with Daniel and Amy. Per "Regis! The Unauthorized Biography," the National Enquirer claimed in the late '80s that he'd left his son destitute; Regis denied the accusations. In 2014, Daniel's ex-wife Judy claimed to Radar that Regis stayed almost entirely out of his eldest kids' lives. She also alleged Regis only would help them out financially for PR.

But Regis maintained that he talked frequently with Daniel, who while working for the Department of Defense, received an award for helping survivors of the 9/11 Pentagon attack. He even said he made a point of visiting his son in the hospital. "He's just dynamite, a remarkable kid," Regis said in Esquire (via "Regis!: The Unauthorized Biography"). Of his father, Daniel once told People, "I love my dad, and I'm really proud of him." In 2018, the tabloid the Globe claimed that Regis, who was dealing with various health issues at the time, regretted the state of his relationships with his eldest daughter and late son.