A few short weeks ago, Kathie Lee Gifford invited her old friend Regis Philbin and his wife Joy over to her Connecticut home to catch up. Although she had her concerns about her former Live! With Regis and Kathie co-host, she had no way of knowing that the laughter-filled lunch would be their last get-together. Now, following Philbin’s death on June 24, Gifford is opening up about what their final moments together were like.
Gifford and Philbin became a beloved duo during the 15 years they spent side-by-side on Live! From 1985 to 2000. In the 20 years since, their friendship has endured. As Gifford explained on Monday morning to another former co-host, Today’s Hoda Kotb, she always prioritized seeing Philbin when they were in close proximity. “I was up from Tennessee, where I live most of the time, and of course the first call I always make is to Regis and Joy. I said, ‘Can we get together, can we have some lunch?’ So they came over about two weeks ago,” Gifford recounted.
Upon seeing her old friend, Gifford felt a pang of concern, saying, “I saw Reg get out of the car with Joy and I sensed much more fragility that I’d seen in him since the last time in January out in Los Angeles.” However, they quickly fell into their happy-go-lucky rapport. “We sat here on my screened porch, and we laughed ourselves sick,” said Gifford, adding, “We always just pick up right where we left off… we just had the best time.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 27, 2020
After their visit, Gifford admitted, worry began to creep back in. “I just thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I’m going to see my friend?’ ‘Cause he was failing, I could tell,” she told Kotb, revealing that “something told” her last week to return from her travels to the East Coast. “I got on a plane, came home and immediately heard the news about Regis,” she said. “Called Joy immediately, talked with her.”
As they “reminisced for a little while,” Gifford and Joy circled back to that final lunch the three shared together.
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There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend, Regis. I simply adored him and every day with him was a gift. We spent 15 years together bantering and bickering and laughing ourselves silly—a tradition and a friendship we shared up to this very day. I smile knowing somewhere in Heaven, at this very moment, he’s making someone laugh. It brings me great comfort knowing that he had a personal relationship with his Lord that brought him great peace. I send all the love in my heart to Joy, to his children, to the rest of his family and to the innumerable people he touched over his legendary life. There has never been anyone like him. And there never will be.
“I was just so grateful the Lord gave me that final time,” Gifford gushed. “And it was so precious because when I talked to Joy the day that I found out right after he had passed, she said, ‘Kathie, he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.’ She said, ‘I was so worried about him.’”
In fact, Joy told Gifford that day was the last time she heard Philbin laugh before he passed away of natural causes at the age of 88. Said Gifford of that memory, “That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh again with one of my best friends in all my lifetime.”
Before you go, click here to pay tribute to all of the celebrities we’ve lost in 2020.