Beloved TV host Regis Philbin, who has spent more time in front of TV cameras than anyone else in history, said a tearful goodbye to a star-studded audience Friday on "Live! With Regis and Kelly."
The 80-year-old Philbin's final edition of the syndicated morning show aired Friday morning, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg giving the Bronx-bred legend a key to the city as fans and friends including Donald Trump, Katie Couric, Tony Danza and Diane Sawyer watched from the audience.
”You see that?" Ripa said as the crowd cheered Philbin's entrance. "That’s all for you. All those people are here for you.”
Philbin, who has logged more than 16,000 TV hours as an actor, talk and game show host and awards presenter in an illustrious career that began in the early 1960s, took it all in.
"I feel OK, I feel pretty good. Well, I feel the weight of the whole thing, the somberness of it..."
Ripa, his partner for the last decade, interrupted Philbin before the lump forming in his own throat could.
"I’m surprised you showed because I saw you glugging down those Cosmos last night," quipped Ripa, who then teed up a montage of stars paying tribute with the sincerest form of flattery.
"Regis you are a true original, you are one of a kind... and yet many of us feel the urge to "do" Regis…Many of us have the urge to "be" Regis. Many of us yearn to learn the art of being Regis," Ripa said, introducing a clips of Dana Carvey, Daryl Hammond, Tom Hanks, Amy Poehler, Ben Affleck and other celebs doing their Regis Philbin impersonation.
Over the span of 28 years on "Live," Philbin manned the desk with everyone from Cyndy Garvey to Kathie Lee Gifford to Ripa, and any number of guest hosts, but it's a testament to Regis' appeal and staying power that viewers have stayed with him through all the changes.
Philbin's replacement has not been announced. Next week, Jerry Seinfeld will serve as Ripa's co-pilot, with Neil Patrick Harris taking on duties the following week. Ripa, who recently signed a contract extension through 2017, will continue to work with guests until a permanent co-host is found.
Philbin had the misfortune of starting his TV hosting career in the early '60s, when Johnny Carson was establishing his dominance. But Philbin gamely plugged away for decades, doing radio, talk shows, game shows... anyone looking for a strong, upbeat host who was game for anything knew they could call on him. His perseverance finally paid off in the 1983, when he and Garvey launched "The Morning Show," which would morph over the next five years into "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," and then with Kelly Ripa in 2001.
In the meantime, he's hosted hits like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," "Million Dollar Password" and the first season of "America's Got Talent," appeared in dozens of films and even recorded four record albums.
Incredibly, what inspired Philbin to exit "Live" was not age or health, but money. Philbin has confessed to being disappointed at how his recent contract negotiations went. While he's ready, willing and able to work, he told Katie Couric, he's made peace with the idea that this may be his swan song.
"If nothing comes up, fine, I’ve done it all anyway, believe me."