Kathie Lee Gifford Gives An Emotional Tribute To Cohost Regis Philbin: ‘I Simply Adored Him’

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

Before Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, there was Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford. Regis and Kathie Lee hosted Live from 1988 until 2000.

Afterward, Kathie Lee left the show to further her career. And that she did. While her musical career never truly launched (yes, she had an album — and was recently on The Masked Singer), she found her place with Hoda Kotb as her cohost on Today up until 2018.

While Kelly Ripa was definitely a wonderful replacement, the show wasn’t the same. Kathie Lee and Regis made us believe that they were actually friends when the cameras stopped rolling. And based on her tribute, it seems as if that thought was actually true.

Regis died at the age of 88, just one month away from turning 89. While he had a wonderful life, the news was still rather shocking. “His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him—for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about,” his family wrote in a statement, per Entertainment Tonight. “We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss.”

While sweet, Kathie Lee’s words hold a lot of weight. It’s obvious that, in her eyes, she lost a family member.

“There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend, Regis,” she wrote. “I simply adored him and every day with him was a gift. 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,” she continued. “It brings me great comfort knowing that he had a personal relationship with his Lord that brought him great peace. I send all the love in my heart to Joy, to his children, to the rest of his family and to the innumerable people he touched over his legendary life.”

“There has never been anyone like him. And there never will be,” she concluded. Kathie Lee also admitted elsewhere that she was able to see her friend Regis just a few weeks before his death. She said that while the meetup was fun, she could tell that Regis was in rough shape.

“I sensed much more fragility than I’d seen in him since the last time in January, out in Los Angeles,” she said on Today, per TVLine. “I just thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I’m going to see my friend?’ Because he was failing, I could tell.”

She also admitted that throughout their time working together, and the friendship that continued, the two of them never seemed to get into a fight. “He was very curious, as always, listened,” she said. “We always respected each other’s opinions so highly. You know, in all the years we were together, we never had one cross word.”

On the show, the two of them were known for their morning banter. In a way, it was a genius tactic that helped their viewers get to know them as individuals, not just as celebrities. The two had a natural chemistry, which also attracted viewer attention. According to Regis, their banter was just something that came naturally.

“TV usually thinks those things are too insignificant to be interesting to anybody. But that’s all I’ve got,” Regis told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, per Nicki Swift. “It may sound a little hokey, but 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.”

In 1995, Regis wrote a book — and the two were so close that he trusted Kathie Lee to write the introduction. In it, she mentioned that despite his fame, Regis stayed true to who he was. “He’s still the same young man from the Bronx whose mother used to tell him, ‘The poorhouse is just around the corner, Mr. Big Shot,'” she wrote.

They also published books together. No matter what, they were genuinely supportive of each other’s careers. And that’s probably why the search for Kathie Lee’s replacement ended up taking six months. Someone very special had to fill her shoes.

In 2018, Kathie Lee chose to leave Today — and even though they hadn’t worked together in years, Regis still had advice for her about her next steps. “He said, ‘Kath, I’m so happy for you,'” Kathie Lee said. “He said, ‘There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the 15 years we spent together and how much I loved you.’ … He said, ‘It was never the same after you left,’ because it isn’t.”

While he was very close with Kathie Lee, he had another strong woman in his life — his wife, Joy. The two of them were happily married for years, and sources say that Regis was just as devoted to her as he appeared to be on television. “Regis worships the ground Joy walks on,” a source told Closer Weekly.

“They truly are best friends,” the source continued. “Everyone loves Regis and Joy, they’re great company, have amazing stories, and they complement each other perfectly. It’s one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting marriages and a true love story.”

Aside from Joy, Regis is survived by his children, Joanna, Jennifer, and Amy. He also had a son named Daniel, but Daniel died in 2014. Daniel was one of the two children whom Regis had with his first wife, Catherine “Kay” Faylen. Daniel was born with a spinal cord birth defect, and their relationship was strained at times. But the two seemed to make amends by the time Daniel passed away. “For him to overcome all this disability, to graduate from college, work on his master’s program — he’s just dynamite, a remarkable kid,” Regis once said, per Heavy.

Regis lived an incredible life, and he seemed to be surrounded by a lot of love. It’s nice to know that Kathie Lee still kept in close touch with him after all these years. She became a household name with Regis by her side, and you can tell that she’s always been appreciative of their bond.