Regis Philbin held the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most time spent in front of a television camera — tallied at 16,343 hours when he retired at age 80 in 2011. He hosted “Live! with Kathie Lee” (which later became “Live! with Regis and Kelly”), “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Million Dollar Password,” the first season of “America’s Got Talent,” and many others.
In 1993, at age 62, while shooting a commercial on a cruise ship with Kathie Lee Gifford, he developed severe chest pains and found out that he had a cholesterol greater than 300 mg/dL and complete blockage of an artery leading to his heart. He had the artery opened surgically and had stents placed in the arteries leading to his heart. He changed his horrendous diet and lack of exercise to lifestyle habits that helped him to live another 27 years, although he did have another major procedure, triple bypass surgery, at age 76. He died on July 24, 2020, at age 88, of heart failure.
Early Life and Career
Philbin was born in Manhattan in 1931, to a father who was a U.S. Marine of Irish descent, and a mother whose family were Albanians from Italy. Philbin was graduated from Notre Dame in 1953 and served in the U.S. Navy. He then worked in entry-level jobs at Los Angeles TV stations and was an announcer on a L.A. radio station. In 1961, at age 30, he had his first talk show on KOGO-TV in San Diego. Three years later, the show was syndicated nationally but was so unpopular that Philbin was replaced after a year by Merv Griffin. In 1964, at age 33, Philbin replaced Steve Allen but the show was cancelled after four months. He did “The Joey Bishop Show” from 1967-69, and for the next several years, he hosted or appeared on a variety of shows, none of which did well until 1978 when his show on KABC-TV reached top ratings.
In 1982, at age 51, he joined Cindy Garvey on “The Morning Show” on WABC-TV in New York. Three years later, he was joined by Kathie Lee Johnson (later Gifford), and the rest is history. After Kathie Gifford left the show in 2000, Kelly Ripa joined him for even more successes. He also hosted game shows including the popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and was a regular guest on shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In 2008 he was earning more than $21 million per year.
Health Issues and Lifestyle Changes
After he developed heart trouble, he actively went on public service programs to help others avoid heart attacks, stents and triple bypass surgery. He admitted that his diet was less than adequate. He ate too much meat, cheeseburgers and cookies and not enough fruits and vegetables. However, he continued to eat lots of chicken, which is still controversial. He spent most of his lifetime not exercising and after his heart problems, he did go to the gym and lift weights and he played some tennis, but he had no regular and faithful aerobic program.
In 2009, at age 78, he had hip replacement surgery and at age 79, he had surgery to remove a blood clot from his calf. Heart attacks are caused by clots and heart attack risk factors are also risk factors for joint damage.
He took statin drugs, but had to change to different statins after his muscles started to hurt. He told interviewers, “If I knew what I know today, I probably wouldn’t have eaten as many cheeseburgers and oatmeal raisin cookies and would have considered exercise as a daily part of my routine, not just an obligation that I felt forced to do.
Lessons from Regis Philbin’s Later Life and Death
• Heart attacks are caused by clots that completely block the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. First a plaque breaks off from the inner lining of an artery leading to the heart. Then there is bleeding and then clotting that extends to block all blood flow through that artery.
• Certain foods can cause plaques to form because they turn on your immune system to cause inflammation that punches holes in arteries. Then there is bleeding, then clotting and then the plaques start to form. Foods that turn on your immune system include mammal meat, fried foods, sugar added to foods, all drinks with sugar in them including fruit juices and refined carbohydrates in which the food has been processed and ground up so that it releases sugar into your small intestines to cause a high rise in blood sugar. Dietary saturated fats and dietary cholesterol may not have anything to do with plaque formation, and saturated fats from plants have not been shown to increase risk for heart attacks.
• Exercise does not prevent plaques from forming; plaques are caused primarily by diet and genetics. However, exercise helps to stabilize plaques so that they are less likely to break off to start a heart attack.
• Statins help to lower cholesterol, but other drugs also lower cholesterol and do not prevent heart attacks. The primary benefit of statins appears to be that they are anti-inflammatory. They turn down your immune system so it does not punch holes in arteries. A major problem with statins is that they often cause muscle aches and fatigue, particularly in people who exercise regularly. Some statins are less likely to cause muscle aches than others, so check with your doctor if you have this problem.
• Since heart attacks cause more than 40 percent of deaths in North America today, everyone should follow an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. You should not wait for your doctor to tell you that your cholesterol is too high or that your arteries leading to your heart are blocked.
Regis Francis Xavier Philbin
August 25, 1931- July 24, 2020