Regis Philbin said he wouldn’t cry as he bid farewell to “Live! With Regis and Kelly,” and he kept that promise today. In fact, Philbin didn’t say goodbye, but instead closed the show by thanking his fans for “these great years together” and telling them “I hope I see you again real soon.”
“I’ll always remember spending these mornings with all of you,” he said.
Philbin, who holds the record for the most time on air at 16,780 hours and has been a fixture on television for half a century, hosted “Live!” for 28 years including 15 beside Kathie Lee Gifford, who was in the audience today.
Excited fans chased Philbin down the street as he approached the studio and celebrity guests walked a red carpet before the show (Donald Trump arrived to huge cheers and shouts of “president!”). Even Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos’ children dressed up for the occasion; Ripa’s youngest son Joaquin was sporting a bowtie that was a gift from Philbin.
Other invited guests for the final show included ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Sam Champion and Katie Couric and actors Jane Krakowski, Alan Alda and Tony Danza, who Philbin joked “is the biggest name here!”
“Regis said it best…he just wanted to make people happy,” said Robin Roberts. “He certainly did that and so much more. Mornings will not be the same without Reege. One of a kind.”
“Regis Philbin is the last of an era!” echoed Sam Champion. “A singer, dancer, showman and host who held the camera with his star-power, but made TV all about his guests. I’ll miss him every day!”
“Live!” staffers were in tears as Philbin and Ripa walked out holding hands at the start of the show, which featured surprise guests Mayor Michael Bloomberg who presented him with a key to the city, and Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, who dedicated a plaque in Philbin’s honor.
The show also included a montage of celebrity impersonations of Philbin, a performance by the cast of the Broadway show “Rent” and a tribute from his two daughters JJ and Joanna and his wife Joy which prompted Philbin to joke “What are you doing to me?” in the commercial break.
Ripa was emotional throughout the show. She ignored her co-host’s advice to “Never write anything down and speak from the heart” as she read a message about how the “43 steps” from her dressing room to the stage can “change a person’s life.”
She said she wished Philbin’s next 43 steps will be “filled with the joy that you’ve filled us with for all these years.”
“Live!” has honored Philbin all week with a farewell celebration that included Trump, David Letterman and Gifford. Executive Producer Michael Gelman told reporters before the show “We’re starting the dating process” to select a new co-host. Jerry Seinfeld will be Ripa’s first co-host next week.
As for Philbin, devoted fans like Dan Roy from Smithville, R.I. — who was at the head of the line after arriving at midnight and said he’s loved Regis since “way before the beginning of this show” — will be with him for those next steps.
And it’s those fans who Philbin thanked at the end. “They watch it because it makes them feel better and it can’t get better than that. It makes them happy and I’ll never be able to top that.”