He’s half of the preternaturally perky duo on Live with Regis & Kathie Lee, but Regis Philbin is going solo to host the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (airing for 13 nights on ABC until Aug. 29). On Millionaire, Philbin doles out cash prizes (up to $1 million per show) and enforces its quirky rules—like one that allows stumped players to call a friend to help them answer a difficult question. Who would Reege ring up if he were a contestant? Kathie Lee Gifford, perhaps? “You must think I just fell off a turnip truck if you think I’m going to answer that,” he says, laughing.
Before life with Kathie Lee, times were much leaner for Philbin. He was a page at NBC before landing his first on-air job, as a San Diego TV reporter, in 1957. After hosting a series of TV talk shows in the ’60s and ’70s, he was paired with Gifford in 1985 in a chatty television partnership that has proved both popular and lucrative. Now he’s in a position to offer counseling to the prospective millionaires on his game show.
“I’ve been poor, and I’ve been lucky,” says Philbin, 68, who lives in Manhattan with wife Joy, 58. (he has four grown children, two with Joy and two with his first wife, Kay). “Frankly, it’s better to be lucky.”