By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON – Regis Philbin, the Catholic talk- and game-show host whose career in television spanned six decades, died July 24 at age 88 of cardiovascular disease at a hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he lived.
Philbin is credited by Guinness World Records as having been on air more than anyone else on TV, putting the figure at more than 17,000 hours.
Philbin was a 1953 graduate of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and an avid supporter of his alma mater. He also graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School in New York, and was a generous benefactor there as well.
“Regis regaled millions on air through the years, oftentimes sharing a passionate love for his alma mater with viewers,” said Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, in a July 25 statement.
“He will be remembered at Notre Dame for his unfailing support for the university and its mission, including the Philbin Studio Theater in our performing arts center. … Our prayers are with his wife, Joy, and their daughters and Notre Dame alumnae Joanna and J.J.”
But Philbin’s greatest success may have been hosting the U.S. version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” for ABC for three years. Upon its debut, it became a phenomenon, lifting ABC to first place in the ratings race – and the Walt Disney Co.’s stock price in the process. “Millionaire,” while a game show, also is credited with spawning the “reality TV” genre that continues on network TV.
In 2007, Philbin won $175,000 on the Fox’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” and announced on the air that he would donate his winnings to Cardinal Hayes High School. The year before, he gave the school his $50,000 prize from winning “Celebrity Jeopardy” on another special episode for celebrities to win for their favorite charity.
“I think everything I am is the result of 16 years of Catholic education,” Philbin said in a 1996 interview. “The values that you learn as a kid stay with you the rest of your life. Certainly, those nuns and brothers and priests drummed enough of those values into us that it helped us tremendously.”
Funeral plans were not announced by press time, but in the same interview, Philbin addressed rumors that he wanted his ashes to be scattered over the Notre Dame campus when he dies. “That’s right,” he said. “I want to be there forever.”