"I always knew Regis had my back. He always protected me on the air," Kathie Lee Gifford tells PEOPLE

Regis Philbin was supportive of his friends through the good times and the bad.

When Kathie Lee Gifford’s late husband Frank was caught in a public cheating scandal in 1997, longtime friend and Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee co-host Philbin was right by her side.

"Everybody talks about the hard times that I went through that were public. And they were hard times. By any definition they were the most painful times of my life, for sure," Gifford, 66, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

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kathie lee and frank gifford
Kathie Lee Gifford and late husband Frank Gifford
| Credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty

"But I always knew Regis had my back. He always protected me on the air. The Bible says, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' I knew my own truth. I was never going to let what the world said about me define me," she says. "And he always supported me in all of that."

regis and kathie lee
Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin
| Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC

Gifford revealed Monday on the Today show that she and Philbin, who remained close even after she left Live in 2000, had a special visit just weeks before his death on July 24.

Reigs Philbin
Regis Philbin
| Credit: Bennett Raglin/WireImage

"We sat right here on my screened porch and we laughed ourselves sick — we always just picked up right where we left off," she said, explaining that she and Philbin had become "dear friends" even after she exited the show.

Added Gifford: "... We had the best time, and after they left, I just thought to myself, 'Lord, is that the last time I'm going to see my friend?' Because he was failing, I could tell."

Now, as friends and family continue to mourn the loss of the beloved TV icon, his legacy will live on forever.

“There has never been anyone like him. And there never will be,” says Gifford.