Regis Philbin: ‘It Was Time to Move On’

Legendary television host Regis Philbin says he decided to leave “Live!” after 28 years,  in part because the contract he was offered made him think “it was time to move on.”

“Every time a contract got to be renewed, I would think about it and say, ‘Maybe it’s time,’” he told Katie Couric in an interview for “Regis Philbin: The Morning Maestro.” “Because most of the people my age are gone, long gone.  And I just thought this was probably a good time to go.”

Philbin addressed the speculation that the negotiation didn’t go the way he would have wished.

“Well, that’s exactly right,” he said.  “Otherwise maybe I might have changed my mind.  But it wasn’t what I expected or I thought I deserved.  You know, one of those things.  And so I felt it was time to move on.”

Nevertheless, Philbin says, there are no hard feelings and no regrets.  

The 80-year-old host has been a ubiquitous presence on television for 50 years, shattering his own world record for logging  the most time of anyone on the air — which, if you’re keeping score at home, now stands at 16,780 and a half hours — and he bristles at the term “retirement.”  But Philbin does say  he plans to take some time to kick back and smell the roses.

 ”If nothing comes up, fine, I’ve done it all anyway, believe me,” he said.


Regis Philbin and Katie Couric. Ida Mae Astute/ABC News

  Photos of Regis from his childhood in the Bronx through his long Hollywood career.

He’s done it all … and then some, from sportscaster to news anchor to red carpet reporter.

 ”I wish I didn’t have to wait till I was in my late 50s before the good part of my life started in this business,” Philbin acknowledged. “That’s what I regret, that it was kind of a late start for me.”

Long before he achieved morning glory, Philbin spent years learning the ropes on local talk shows.  He thought he’d hit the jackpot in 1967 when he was asked to be the announcer on “The Joey Bishop Show,” but competing against Johnny Carson was too tall an order.   It would take nearly two decades before just the right chemistry would make Philbin a reliable fixture on morning television beside Kathie Lee Gifford. 

Along the way he sat beside a series of co-hosts, and perfected the “host chat” at the start of the show early on. You might say Philbin put the “real” in reality TV.

“Whatever reality we can make on our show, that, to me, is interesting,” he said.

“He said, ‘and by the way, we won’t be talking before the show,’” recalled former co-host Sarah Purcell. “As you know, the whole monologue in the beginning is about what you did the night before.  So, don’t talk about any of that ahead of time. And it worked!  It absolutely worked.”

“There is something about working with Regis,” said Mary Hart, who co-hosted “The Regis Philbin show from 1980-1981 and later gained fame on “Entertainment Tonight.”  “You really have to expose your personal life.  I mean, you talk about everything.”

 ”I called him a jerk the first week we worked together, and he called me one right back, pretty much, and the sparks flew,” Gifford recalled.

Those sparks flew for 15 years, before Gifford left the show and was replaced by Kelly Ripa. Now it’s time for Philbin to leave and discover life after “Live!”   Not surprisingly, television’s ultimate survivor was approached to do a reality show and even spent a day with a camera crew but decided it wasn’t for him. 

For now, fans looking for their Philbin fix can find him on a book tour for his just-released memoir, and at a series of nightclub dates he’s scheduled this winter.  But mornings will never quite be the same.

What he says he’ll miss the most is “the excitement of walking out, you know, hearing that applause — knowing that the audience is there, and they’re on your side, and they want to be entertained, and you can do that for them.  It’s nice to know.”

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