Kathie Lee Gifford remembers 'precious friend' Regis Philbin in soaring tribute

The iconic television duo were welcomed into the living rooms of America for 15 years.
Image: Kathie Lee Gifford Regis Philbin at the desk in Studio 1A
On Saturday, Kathie Lee Gifford took to social media to pay tribute to the late television giant.TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford were one of the most iconic duos on morning television, sitting side by side as they cracked jokes, interviewed celebrities and opened up about their lives.

From 1985 until 2000, Kathie Lee co-hosted “Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee” alongside the man she affectionately called “Reeg,” a nickname that caught on with fans.

What started as a local New York morning show became a national hit when it went into syndication in 1988. One big reason: The authentic chemistry between Philbin, who died on July 24 at age 88, and Kathie Lee, 66. They were funny, chatty and most of all, relatable.

In Reeg, Kathie Lee found a lifelong friend. On Saturday, she took to social media to pay tribute to the television giant.

"There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend, Regis. I simply adored him and every day with him was a gift," the former co-host of TODAY said in a statement. "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."

On Kathie Lee’s final episode of their show on July 28, 2000, Philbin, who was a master of morning show-friendly one-liners, joked that “it’s taken 15 years to say goodbye!”

They worked so well together that Kathie Lee told ABC at the time they were “in such a rhythm and have been for so many years.”

After Kathie Lee left the show, she stayed close friends with Philbin and his wife, Joy Philbin, who had been a frequent substitute co-host on the morning show.

Kathie Lee made a special appearance on the show in 2007 to celebrate its 20th year in national syndication. It was the first time Philbin appeared alongside his former co-host of 15 years and Kelly Ripa, who took over Kathie Lee’s seat in February 2001.

“I’m looking forward to seeing (Gifford) again,” Philbin told AP Radio. “Bringing her back on the show and seeing what happens— what sparks fly! — between the only two co-hosts I’ve had on the last 20 years.”

“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."

Of course, everyone was friends. Ripa added that she was a “huge fan” before she joined the show.

Kathie Lee made her return to morning television in 2008, when she joined NBC as a co-host of the fourth hour of TODAY with Hoda Kotb, once again becoming one half of a favorite American morning television duo. But Reeg was never far and enjoyed stopping by the set for the occasional on-camera reunion.

When Kathie Lee announced in December 2018 that she would be leaving TODAY, she said it was Philbin who offered her wisdom.

"Kath, I'm so happy for you. Joy and I just heard the news,” Kathie Lee told Hoda on air. “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.’”

On April 5, 2019, Kathie Lee’s last day as a TODAY co-host, Philbin surprised her with another message that left her in tears.

“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. Where you are right now 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.”