Lights, Camera, Action: Little-Known Facts About TV Host Regis Philbin

Regis Philbin has been a household name since he started Live in 1988. But his TV career began long before that. From The Joey Bishop Show to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Philbin has thousands of hours of screen time. But there is more to this TV host than meets the eye.

Even the biggest Philbin fans may not know about his voice acting history, how he struggled for years to get on TV, or his mysterious younger brother. Read on to learn fascinating facts about TV host Regis Philbin.

Philbin Was Not An Only Child

Regis Philbin and Joey Bishop stand outside the famous Brown Derby Restaurant.
Martin Mills/Getty Images
Martin Mills/Getty Images

For years, most people assumed that Regis Philbin was an only child. After all, he talked a lot about his personal life on air, but he never mentioned a sibling. But on February 1st, 2007, Philbin said announced that his brother, Frank, had died from lymphoma several days earlier. This news shocked many fans of Live with Regis and Kelly.

Frank Philbin was 20 years younger than his brother. He worked as an Air Force captain and a pilot of Delta Airlines. For some reason, he made Regis promise that he would never mention his brother on TV.

He Holds The World Record For The Most Screen Time On TV

Regis Philbin talks to Host Jimmy Kimmel on the
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Bennett Raglin/WireImage

There’s a reason why Regis Philbin is one of the most widely recognized TV stars; he holds the Guinness World Record for the most hours on TV. He spent 16,000 hours on air, more than any other performer in American history.

Along with his time hosting Live with Regis and Kathie Lee and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Philbin guest-starred on many shows. These include the Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Late Show with David Letterman, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. His resume was so packed that it’s hard to keep up with!

He Coined The Catchphrase “Is That Your Final Answer?”

Regis Philbin quizzes a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Anyone who has watched a game show has likely heard the phrase, “Is that your final answer?” But many may not know that Regis Philbin invented that catchphrase. He was the first host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which began as a two-week special in 1999. After the special’s success, it was commissioned as a full TV show.

Before a contestant would lock in their answer, Philbin would always ask, “Is that your final answer?” Future gameshows copied this line, and they also imitated Philbin’s style of dress.

He First Got On TV By Accident

Regis Philbin sits backstage.
Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Early in his career, Philbin worked as a writer for talk show host Tom Duggan. Duggan was known for his heavy drinking, and he once became so intoxicated that he didn’t show up to work. The director threw Philbin into the show as an unexpected cohost.

Philbin’s single time on-air gave his resume a much-needed boost. In 1961, he starred on his first talk show, The Regis Philbin Show. Although it flopped, it gave Philbin much-needed experience. A year later, he worked as an announcer on The Tonight Show.

He Struggled For Decades Before Landing A TV Show

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford sit on the set of
J. Michael Dombroski/Newsday RM via Getty Images
J. Michael Dombroski/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Philbin’s talk show, Live, was one of the most successful talk shows in US history, running from 1988 to 2011. But many don’t know that Philbin worked for decades to land that gig. His first talk show, The Regis Philbin Show in 1964, flopped so severely that the producers fired Philbin after four months.

Three years later, Philbin acted as the sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show, which maintained low ratings for two years. His big break came in 1981–almost 20 years after his first show–when he got a chance to co-host an NBC show.

He Was Named After A Jesuit School

Regis Philbin stands in the Regis Philbin Cardinal Hayes High School Auditorium.
Taylor Hill/Getty Images
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Regis Philbin grew up Catholic. His father, Francis “Frank” Philbin, was a U.S. Marine of Irish descent. His mother, Filomena, was an Italian immigrant. Frank named his son after Regis High School in Manhattan, the Jesuit school he attended.

Believe it or not, Frank Philbin was kicked out of Regis High as a kid. According to Regis Philbin, Frank got into a fight with a priest during his sophomore year. He felt so bad about getting kicked out of school that he named his son after it.

He Was In The Navy, And It Changed His Life

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford pose in front of a sign.
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Before Philbin worked in television, he followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the Army. In the ’50s, he served in the Navy as a supply officer Lieutenant Junior Grade. While there, he had a conversation with a superior officer that changed his life.

The officer asked Philbin what he wanted to do after service. Philbin admitted that he wanted to go into TV, but he didn’t think that the dream was realistic. The officer told Philbin that anything is possible and that he should pursue his dream. Phibin did–and the rest is history.

He Had To Fly Across The Country Every Weekend

Regis Philbin and his wife Joy are seen at the Miami International Airport.
Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Regis Philbin had to work hard during his early career to maintain his position as a TV host. In the 1970s, Philbin cohosted A.M. Los Angeles in California. But he also filmed Regis Philbin’s Saturday Night in St. Louis in Missouri every weekend.

For several years, Philbin had to commute from Los Angeles to St. Louis every weekend. He would board a four-hour flight to go on TV and hop on a four-hour flight back. Never say that Regis Philbin wasn’t devoted to his work.

He Briefly Ran A Car Dealership

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Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Regis Philbin ran several businesses, but not all of them worked out. In 1984, Philbin opened a car dealership as a side job. His Ford dealership, called Philbin Ford, opened in Gilbert, Arizona. He invested in the shop during his television career.

Philbin Ford remained open until 1988. Eventually, Gilbert’s auto market became oversaturated, causing the dealership to close. But this loss did not affect Philbin too much; after all, he was nearing the height of his television career. Most people don’t remember Philbin Ford ever existing.

Philbin Struggled With Technology

Regis Philbin interviews Bill Gates.
Jeff Christensen/WireImage
Jeff Christensen/WireImage

As technology advanced from the 20th century to the 21st century, Philbin struggled to keep up. He became well-known for being clueless around technology. Philbin didn’t even own a cell phone until 2008.

Because he became confused by new technology–including DVD players–he didn’t own many devices. He would occasionally use a computer but avoided it as often as possible. That said, he never rejected technology. He simply asked his wife, Joy, to send emails and text messages on his behalf.

On His First Talk Show, He Didn’t Have A Writer

Regis Philbin feeds an audience member a sample of food from a cooking segment on The Morning Show.
Joe Dombroski/Newsday RM via Getty Images
Joe Dombroski/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Philbin’s first-ever hosting job was on his own program, The Regis Philbin Show. The studio was small, and the staff hardly had enough money to run it. They didn’t even hire a writer–Philbin had to improvise most of the show!

Fortunately, Philbin’s creativity came in handy–for both The Regis Philbin Show and future careers. To fill in the gaps, Philbin practiced “host chat.” He would converse with the audience about everything from current events to his day. This practice helped him gain an audience on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.

His Family Had Their Struggles

Jennifer Philbin, Joanna Philbin, Joy Philbin and Regis Philbin  pose for a family photo.
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Regis Philbin married his first wife, actress Kay Faylen, in 1955. The pair had two children, Amy and Daniel. According to his daughter-in-law, Judy Philbin, Regis wasn’t a doting father. She said that Regis was not around for much of the kids’ childhood.

His son Daniel Philbin suffered a spinal cord birth defect, which led to both of his legs being amputated. He was sent to an institution, where he developed depression. Amy struggled with substance abuse later in life. In response to the allegations, the National Enquirer said, “Regis desperately wants to make amends and heal all the wounds before he goes.”

Philbin Struggled With Heart Health For Years

Regis Philbin speaks during the NFL's Hurricane Katrina Relief Telethon,
Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives
Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives

Although Philbin appeared lively and healthy on camera, his health was suffering behind the scenes. In 1992, Philbin began experiencing severe chest pains. The doctors found that he had a dangerously high cholesterol level of 300. He underwent an angioplasty procedure and went on medication.

Despite changing his lifestyle and medications, Philbin still suffered from his heart condition. In 2007, he received a triple bypass surgery that removed plaque from his arteries. As he grew older, he got a hip replacement surgery and removed a blood clot in his leg. Still, he smiled and appeared active on camera.

Philbin Was An Avid Fan Of Football And Baseball

Regis Philbin is about to bat on a baseball field.
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Regis Philbin followed sports religiously throughout his life. He was particularly fond of the New York Yankees and his alma mater, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He also played football and baseball during his younger, more active years.

Philbin was so loyal to the Fighting Irish that he narrated their book, Echoes of Notre Dame Football. Even when St. John’s basketball coach Steve Lavin asked Regis to trade his allegiance, he didn’t. In 2009, Philbin had the honor of delivering the first pitch in a Yankees game.

He Voiced A Female Character In Shrek

Television personality Regis Philbin is dressed as Shrek.
Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage
Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage

Surprisingly, Regis Philbin did not have many acting roles. But in 2007, he accepted a role as a character in Shrek the Third. You’ll never guess who he played–the ugly stepsister, Mabel. Yep, he played a female character.

Philbin also acted on the sitcom Hope & Faith, which ran from 2003 to 2006. In the episode “Homeless Hal,” Philbin played Handsome Hal Halverson. These two brief roles were the extent of his acting career. He was made for TV, but he mostly played himself!

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Was Not His First Game Show

Regis Philbin hosts the primetime game show Super Millionaire.
Virginia Sherwood/ABC via Getty Images
Virginia Sherwood/ABC via Getty Images

Most people remember Philbin’s hosting role in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 1999. But before he hosted this show, Philbin hosted two other game shows. He cohosted The Neighbors in 1975. One year later, he ran Almost Anything Goes.

The Neighbors was a show on ABC where five female contestants had to ask gossip questions about each other. It got canceled after one year. Almost Anything Goes was an American version of the British game show, It’s a Knockout! The show appeared in many other countries, but it didn’t last long in America.

He Enjoyed Singing, But Was Reluctant To Do So

Regis Philbin and wife Joy sing during a New Year's celebration.
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Although Philbin became famous for hosting television, he also enjoyed singing. As a kid, he listened to Bing Crosby and Dean Martin, which later influenced his singing style. Philbin sang in a crooning style similar to Frank Sinatra and Perry Como.

While playing the sidekick to Joey Bishop, Philbin lived his dream by dueting with Bing Crosby. A music label caught on, and Philbin made his first album, It’s Time For Regis. It received poor reviews, making him reluctant to release another album. But Philbin did make more music later, such as a traditional pop album, When You’re Smiling.

Second Time’s The Charm

Regis Philbin and his wife Joy attend a screening of the movie
Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images
Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

Regis Philbin married twice. He first married Catherine “Kay” Faylen, daughter of the actor Frank Faylen. They had two children, Amy and Daniel. Philbin and Faylen’s marriage was tumultuous, and they divorced after 13 years together.

His second marriage worked out, however. In 1970, he married the interior decorate Joy Senese. They remained together for 50 years, up to Philbin’s death. They had two daughters, Joanna and Jennifer. Jennifer, nicknamed JJ, would sometimes cohost with her father on Live.

He Pioneered The Monochromatic “Gameshow” Fashion

Regis Philbin made a special appearance at the International Toy Fair to promote Tiger Electronics'' tabletop and hand-held version of the popular quiz show,
Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Online USA, Inc.
Robin Platzer/Twin Images/Online USA, Inc.

Although Philbin wasn’t a fashion designer, he still started a new fashion trend. Before Philbin went on air, TV hosts wore patterned ties and shirts with their suits. Philbin did not follow this trend; he opted for simple, solid-colored ties and shirts.

This “monochromatic” look became a trend on TV. Game show hosts switched to simple suits, so they didn’t distract from the game. Later, talk show hosts and anchors also imitated this trend. The next time you see a simple suit on TV, thank Regis Philbin.

How Regis Philbin Died

Flowers are placed on television host Regis Philbin's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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Regis Philbin passed away on July 24th, 2020, only a month before his 89th birthday. Although Philbin left his show in 2011, he remained busy making guest appearances on other shows. His busy life helped his mood, but not his heart.

Philbin’s heart disease had finally caught up to him. He passed away at a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut. Hours after his death, fans posted many heartfelt tributes to him on social media. He is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame, where he went to school.