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'Live!' says goodbye to Regis Philbin

Regis Philbin and co-host Kelly Ripa appear on

Regis Philbin and co-host Kelly Ripa appear on his farewell episode of "Live! with Regis and Kelly" on Nov. 18, 2011. Credit: AP / Charles Sykes

How did the House that Reeg Built say goodbye Monday morning? With a few laughs, a few tears, a few memories, a few clips, and one baldfaced promotional plug. (Who knew Kiefer Sutherland would be starring in a Quibi original, "The Fugitive," until he told us so?)

But best of all, with recognition — irrefutable, really — that this House, ABCs long-running "Live!," would never have existed in the first place without Regis Philbin, who died Friday at 88.

"I joined this show sitting next to Regis," said an emotional Kelly Ripa (who arrived in 2001). "I couldn't fail because I had Regis and it was his show and he was the person that wouldn't let you fail."

"Like father, son," said Michael Gelman, the long-running producer and longer-running appeal to reason and calm.

"But I was the father, he was the son."

Ripa recalled how Philbin instilled in her son a devotion to his beloved Dean Martin and fellow Rat Packers. Co-host Ryan Seacrest, who joined in the 29th season, recalled how people still refer to the program in shorthand as, simply, "Regis." 

Meanwhile, Art Moore, the show's "executive-in-charge" — himself something of a living "Live!" legend — said a walk down the street with Philbin invariably turned into an exercise in positive affirmation: "He had time for everybody, and made everybody feel better than when they left [him]. That's how I want to remember him, [as] a gold mine of talent, [and] a big heart."

Like any In Memoriam edition, the absences were telling too, and this had a glaring one. Kathie Lee Gifford sat next to Philbin for 15 memorable years, from 1985 to 2000, and more than anyone except Philbin himself came to characterize its jauntiness and (at times) insuperable flakiness.

Yet, on Monday, she was nowhere to be seen, unless you happened to be watching the "Today" show, where she noted that Philbin visited her at her home in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago:

"I saw Reeg get out of the car with [his wife] Joy and I sensed much more fragility in him than I'd seen in him since the last time in January out in Los Angeles," she said. "We sat right here on my screened porch and we laughed ourselves sick — we always just picked up right where we left off."

Why not on "Live?" Gifford also, of course, had a long run on the fourth hour of "Today," which ended just last year. Nevertheless, there was unconfirmed speculation that she had been forced off "Live" back in 2000, with lingering bitterness on both sides.

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