"He became more and more reliant on Joy as the years went on," Kathie Lee Gifford says of Regis Philbin, who died July 24

By Emily Strohm and Charlotte Triggs
July 30, 2020 10:00 AM
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Kathie Lee Gifford is opening up about her longtime friend and former co-host Regis Philbin’s greatest love: his wife of 50 years, Joy.

“Regis was a raconteur, a world-class talk show host, and a bon vivant,” Gifford tells PEOPLE exclusively.

“He knew he couldn’t speak and interact the same way he once could. He became more and more reliant on Joy as the years went on," says Gifford, who hosted Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee with Philbin from 1988 to 2000. "That’s the beauty of a long-time marriage and relationship built on trust, respect and real love.”

  • For more on Regis Philbin, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Regis Philbin and wife Joy in 2006
Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic

Philbin died July 24 of heart disease in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was 88.

Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin
Peter Kramer/NBC

“Joy is a widow now and it’s a club women who love their husbands never want to join,” says Gifford, who was married to husband Frank for 29 years before his death in 2015.

Kathie Lee Gifford and late husband Frank Gifford
Gary Gershoff/Getty

On Monday, Gifford, 66, spoke with the Today show and said she paid a visit to Joy on Sunday, giving her condolences to Philbin's loved ones while also giving them the space to grieve in private, something she said she understood.

“We were both blessed to have a lifetime kind of love,” says Gifford.