Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin: The truth about their relationship

Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin, the former co-hosts of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee (originally called The Morning Show), have been one of daytime television's iconic duos. For an impressive 15 years, the friends and co-workers won viewers over with their playful banter and seemingly genuine bond. But as the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end. And, in July 2000, Gifford left the popular show to pursue other opportunities in the entertainment industry. C'est la vie, right?

Although Gifford and Philbin's professional relationship is kaput, their sweet bond has survived the tumultuous world of Hollywood. From enjoying dinner dates together to gushing about one another in the press, it's clear these two are in it for the long haul. And not to go overboard with sentimentality here, but their longtime camaraderie tugs on our heartstrings. 

In honor of the famous duo, we're taking a look back at how their adorable friendship evolved throughout the years, and we'll also explore some details about their relationship that you might have missed. Why did Gifford name her dog after her former co-star, for example, and is it true that Philbin tried to get the band back together? We answer those questions and more in the truth behind Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin's relationship.

Philbin gave Gifford the highest compliment

If you've ever doubted Regis Philbin's admiration for Kathie Lee Gifford, check out the video message he made to commemorate her last day of co-anchoring Today on April 5, 2019. The message was incredibly heartfelt, to put it mildly, especially since Philbin revealed that Gifford was the "best part" of his professional life. "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," he said. "We stayed friends through the entire game and it was a lot of fun." Cue the awws. 

But wait — Philbin didn't stop there. He continued, "I know you're going to be moving on to a great new career, making movies. And since I've seen the first one, I know you're going to be a great success. I really mean it. I want you to know how I will always remember the great times that we had working together and how you are as a person: just great."

Wow. It's clear that Philbin treasures his former co-host. Considering Philbin has worked with many people throughout his long career, Gifford can take this high compliment to heart.

Their relationship was carefree and easy

There are some people in life that you just click with, a sentiment Kathie Lee Gifford knows all too well thanks to her easy relationship with Regis Philbin. The daytime TV guru spoke about their stress-free bond in an interview with MSNBC, noting that her former co-host immediately made her feel comfortable. "Reg was the old pro when I joined him in the talk show arena. ... He was first person that talked about his life and stuff like that, in a totally colloquial way with no writing and all of that," she explained. "It was perfectly made for my sensibilities. I've been a live performer all of my life. I was an actress and a singer since I was a young girl. So, just to be able to sit there and just let it hang out and ... let it rip, totally unpredictable, suited me so much better."

She went on to praise Philbin for giving her a sense of freedom, adding, "I was working at Good Morning America at the time, and at that time, it was very much a scripted place. So, I loved the freedom I had with Regis to just be a goofball. And I fell in love with him, and, to this day, he's one of my dearest friends in this world."

Could these two get any cuter? Talk about a match made in TV heaven.

Philbin was reportedly desperate for a reunion

Given Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford's professional success together, it's understandable that some fans hoped they'd reunite one day. But don't get your hopes up for a Live reboot anytime soon because Gifford supposedly squashed that idea back in January 2019. According to a report from Radar Online, Philbin was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, supposedly "begging" Gifford to "go out on the road with him and play theaters and casinos." Radar's source added, "He's itching to get back in the game, and he feels bantering onstage with Kathie Lee and doing some duets with her will bring the old magic back!"

Although it was a good idea in theory, Gifford reportedly backed off due to Philbin's health. "Kathie Lee loves that Regis still has this enthusiasm for working, but it isn't 2000 any longer," the insider shared. "It's a case of her fearing Regis' mind is willing, but his body is weak." Fair enough. If Philbin isn't up for the physical demands of a tour, then he should probably take it easy. 

Uh-oh, was Gifford banned from Live?

When Kathie Lee Gifford left Live with Regis and Kathie Lee in July 2000, she was "persona non grata" at the show, according to CNN. Translation: She wasn't allowed to visit the set to promote her products or catch up with her former co-host, Regis Philbin, for months after her departure. But as bad as the situation might sound, it wasn't that dramatic. Essentially, the show's stakeholders wanted to give the series some time to breathe before inviting Gifford back for a reunion.

"We need to gain some physical and commercial separation from Kathie Lee during the search for her replacement," Tom Kane, president and general manager of WABC-TV — the show's production company at the time — said in a statement, as reported by CNN. "We can all see a day when she'll appear on the show again as a guest, and when her commercial endeavors are promoted during the show, but only after we've been able to reestablish ourselves with a new co-host."

Gifford's publicist stressed that there was no drama involved, stating, "There are no hard feelings. ... It's all friendly." Sounds reasonable to us.

Why did Gifford really leave the show?

Any fan of Kathie Lee Gifford probably knows that she has love for theater and acting. And when, in July 2000, Gifford left Live with Regis and Kathie Lee to supposedly pursue these passions, it seemed to make perfect sense. But were Gifford's big ambitions the real reason she left the show? The Today alum revealed to the New York Post in August 2007 that this wasn't the case. As it turns out, Gifford bid farewell to her career in order to take care of her ailing father. "My daddy was dying, and I was not comfortable making it public," she explained. "I had a very personal reason for not going through yet one more painful experience in a public way."

Understandably, Gifford wanted to take a breather from the spotlight so she could adequately process the tough situation. "I knew it was going to be a horrendous family experience," she said. "I just had to have that time with him without cameras in my face and without having to explain things. I wanted my daddy to be able to die with the dignity in which he had lived his life." 

Although we were sad to see Gifford go, we're glad she made the right decision for her family.

About that ratings boost...

Fans weren't sure what would happen to Live with Regis and Kathie Lee when Kathie Lee Gifford parted ways with the show in July 2000. The series could have flopped, for instance, or it could have seen a ratings surge. What ended up happening? Months after Gifford's goodbye, the talk show saw a major ratings boost. The "first three weeks of the Gifford-less show drew 26 percent more viewers" than it had that previous summer, according to Nielsen Media Research via the New York Post. Television analyst Marc Berman attributed the surge to fan curiosity, telling the New York Post, "I think her leaving added a lot of attention to the show, and people were curious to see how Regis was going to do it without her."

The show's producer at the time, Michael Gelman, said, "When she said goodbye, it opened us up to a whole new audience of those who either might not have been fans or hadn't even thought about the show."

Of course, we have to point out that Gifford never had an issue with ratings. Not only was her show with Regis Philbin a success, but she did really well as a co-anchor at Today

Philbin's sad revelation about Gifford's late husband

Kathie Lee Gifford's life hit a tragic note when her husband of 29 years, football star Frank Gifford, died in August 2015 of natural causes. The death came as a shock to Frank's family and friends because he had just received "the best medical report" from his doctor days before his passing. Regis Philbin touched on this sentiment when he revealed that he had dinner with Frank shortly before the tragedy. 

"My wife Joy and I just had dinner last Saturday night with Frank and Kathie Lee at their lovely home in Connecticut," Regis told Entertainment Tonight. "He looked terrific. Handsome, smiling, laughing...it was a great night." How heartbreaking.

Philbin, who shared a close friendship with Frank, had nothing but great things to say about the football legend. "Frank had a great life and he and Kathie Lee raised two beautiful children, Cody and Cassidy," he added. "All of us will miss him terribly."

Wait, Gifford named her dog after Philbin?

Some fans might not know that Kathie Lee Gifford named one of her dogs Regis, after her beloved co-host Regis Philbin. Considering it's not every day that someone names their pet after their co-worker, it's fair if this revelation has some people scratching their heads. So, what gives here?

In an essay for the book No Better Friend: Celebrities and the Dogs They Love, Gifford explained that she named her pooch Regis due to Philbin's excessive hounding (get it?) about naming her two children after him. "Both of my pregnancies occurred while I was co-host of Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee, so they were understandably pretty public events. As soon as I shared that Frank and I were expecting a boy, Regis began hounding me to name him Regis," she wrote in an excerpt that appeared in Parade. "'Regis?' I cried. 'I can't believe your parents named you that.'"

Years later, when Gifford was pregnant with her daughter, Philbin pointedly suggested, "Regina! You gotta name her Regina." When Philbin's pal ultimately went with the name Cassidy, he teased her, "Cody and Cassidy — what is that? Some freakin' Wild West Show?" 

To get Philbin off her scent (sorry, we can't help it), she made a deal to name her next dog after him. The television icon seemed genuinely moved by the offer, Gifford recalled, and Regis the dog — a rescue she adopted — lived with her family for 14 years. How heartwarming.