Why Retiring Regis Philbin Is a TV Icon

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A 79 year-old man with a history of health troubles giving up his job as co-host of a daily morning talk show is not a surprise per se. Unless, of course, the 79 year-old man is Regis Philbin. Then it's not just a surprise. It's unthinkable.

Hence the initial shocked reaction when Philbin announced his intention to retire from Live With Regis And Kelly at the end of the summer, ending a 28 year run as co-host of the daytime talk show. And while it seems unlikely that Philbin, a television veteran dating back to the 1950s, will retire into Johnny Carson-esque seclusion, a handful of observers from around the Web were moved to reflect on Philbin's mastery of the medium and traced the origins of his unique appeal.

  • Tougher Than It Looks  Time's James Poniewozik says Philbin made a tough job look easy. He never seemed uncomfortable performing "one of the strangest occupations ever invented by humankind: TV hosting. which is to say, professionally being watched while being yourself in the presence of others." Rather, Philbin embraced the "curious, Zen-like job of hosting" with aplomb and a lack of self-consciousness.
  • Juggernaut  Like Oprah Winfrey, writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Kristi Gustafson, Philbin and his co-hosts (Kathie Lee Gifford until 2001, Kelly Ripa ever since) were daytime stars with crossover appeal. "Even if you are already slaving away by 9 a.m.," explains Gustafson, "you've likely heard of the talk show duo - or watched them when you were playing hooky out sick." The host show established a reputation for booking "lesser-known actors and musicians on-set early in their career and almost predicting who would make it big."
  • Audience Connection   Philbin's skills as a performer are considerable, concedes the AP's Frazier Moore, but much of Philbin's success is attributable to the fact people just plain liked him. His brand was as distinct as it was unlikely: The "famously excitable guy" who somehow "clicked with daytime audiences as a common man who loved to sound off about familiar frustrations, even as he lived a life rubbing elbows with fellow celebrities." It also enabled Philbin to briefly "conquer prime time as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" on ABC a decade ago.
  • Mr. Excitement  New York Times television reporter Bill Carter cites Philbin's enthusiasm as the the key to his longevity. Philbin has "always been known for his high energy and spontaneous wit" as a performer, qualities that "made him a favorite not only with viewers but with other professionals in the business." Carter points out that one of Philbin's "biggest fans, the late-night host David Letterman, has called Mr. Philbin 'the best there is' on many occasions."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.