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Regis Philbin, Longtime TV Host, Dies At 88

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Regis Philbin, the energetic TV host who set the Guinness World Record for the most hours on American television, has died of natural causes at age 88. He presided over live morning shows and quiz shows. When he hosted the U.S. version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," he popularized a signature phrase.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGIS PHILBIN: Is that your final answer? I would have to say that every time because that would indicate to them that this - that you can't say, oh, I changed my mind. Once you say yes to, is that your final answer, it's done.

MCCAMMON: That's Regis Philbin in an interview with the Archive of American Television. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is with us now.

Good morning, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: So take us through some of the major moments of Regis Philbin's career.

DEGGANS: Well, you know, Regis was a consummate TV host whose career spanned the earliest days of television. I mean, he served as a sidekick for comic Joey Bishop in the late 1960s all the way up to "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." It was a show that was so popular in the early 2000s that ABC scheduled it in prime time up to five times a week.

One of his landmark jobs was hosting a live, syndicated daytime talk show for over 20 years. First, it was called "Live With Regis And Kathie Lee" with co-host Kathie Lee Gifford. That was from 1988 to 2000. And then he did "Live With Regis And Kelly" with Kelly Ripa, where he stayed until 2011. He started on TV in California. He landed his first on-air job in San Diego in 1959, eventually hosting a late-night talk show there, where he would interview celebrities.

Regis was just one of these rare broadcasters who was active and successful in just about every decade from the 1960s to now, and he had to be to earn that Guinness World Record, which he set in 2011 with more than 16,700 hours on camera.

MCCAMMON: That is a lot of airtime, Eric. Why do you think he lasted so long?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, like every good TV host, Regis was charming and genial. But he was a New Yorker from the Bronx, so he had this kind of jumpy energy and an irreverent sense of humor that could surprise you. He was at his best when he was complaining about all the little things in life that annoy you, kind of like an uncle who can entertain you at the dinner table.

And, like a lot of old-school stars, you know, he'd like to work a lot, so he hosted game shows, like the first season of "America's Got Talent." He played himself on scripted shows like "30 Rock" and "How I Met Your Mother." So - he was close to David Letterman. He made a ton of appearances on Letterman's show and joined him for his first show after the 9/11 attacks. And on Regis's live morning talk shows, he really developed this ability to talk about his life and his family for TV audiences that were starting their morning. It kind of made him seem like part of their family, so he was someone that audiences were used to welcoming into their homes.

MCCAMMON: Such a long and varied career. What do you think Regis Philbin's legacy will be?

DEGGANS: Well, I think he's going to have a couple. "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" was a monster hit. It saved ABC and kind of rewrote the rules of TV for a while. It even inspired fashion trends. His live talk show remains a TV institution. It continues today. He helped a lot of co-hosts who became big TV stars, including Gifford and Ripa and Mary Hart. He embodied this old-school showbiz ethic of hard work, consistency, entertainment and just, like, a genial good spirit. I think he's definitely going to be missed.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Thanks so much, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.