Regis Philbin Shares Memories of Frank Gifford's Happy Last Days: 'He Looked So Strong'

Kathie Lee Gifford's former Live! co-host had dinner at the Giffords' the weekend before Frank died

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It was a night like so many others.

On Saturday, Aug. 1, Regis Philbin and wife Joy visited close pals Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford at their Greenwich, Connecticut, home to enjoy dinner and drinks under the stars in their lush backyard.

“There Frank was, handsome as ever,” Philbin tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. As his former Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee co-host offered up her signature candid stories – “She was, of course, a riot” – her husband, the dashing former New York Giants star and Emmy-winning sports broadcaster, “was smiling and laughing,” says Philbin.

That night, says Philbin, Frank “looked so good, so strong and healthy.” But just eight days later, Philbin learned that his dear friend had suddenly collapsed at home and died at age 84. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Nobody could.”

Philbin, 83, had known of Frank Gifford for more than 50 years. “I remember when he played for Southern Cal in 1949. I went to Notre Dame, but I’d watch him play. He was passing all the passes, running all the plays,” says Philbin. Later, through co-host Kathie Lee, Philbin got to know Frank personally. “I was there when they met and got together in the ’80s. It was a wonderful thing to see.”

The week following Frank’s death, Philbin says he returned to the Giffords’ home. This time to be by Kathie Lee’s side and pay his respects. “She had all the people there,” he says of the gathering on Aug. 15. “She’s holding up well and strong.”

Now Philbin says he’s thinking back on all of the good times. “Frank had a great sense of humor,” says Philbin. “He was a happy man who accomplished a lot. … These things have to happen I guess.”

RELATED VIDEO: Kathie Lee Gifford on Her Own After Losing the Love of Her Life

For more on how Kathie Lee Gifford is coping with the loss of her beloved husband, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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