Kathie Lee Gifford has paid tribute to her friend and co-star Regis Philbin, who died on Friday aged 88.
Gifford, 66, spoke to the Today show on Monday morning about her affection for Philbin, with whom she co-hosted Live with Regis and Kathie Lee for 15 years, until 2000.
Their friendship was defined by their off-camera bonding, she said, adding that the connection between them was immediate.
‘We just took off like a rocket,’ she said, describing him as ‘the most beloved person I knew in this business.’
Gifford, who spends most of her time at her new home in Tennessee, said she visited Philbin and his wife Joy two weeks ago when she was back in the New York area.
She said Philbin appeared more frail than her last time seeing him.
‘Of course the first call I always make is to Regis and Joy, so I said, “Can we get together? Can we have some lunch?”
‘So they came over about two weeks ago,’ said Gifford, who appeared on the broadcast from Connecticut home.
‘I saw Reg get out of the car with 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 the sense of humor was still strong, though.
‘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, adding that she and Philbin had become ‘dear friends’ even after she left the show.
‘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.’
Gifford said she paid a visit to Joy on Sunday.
She said she wanted to pay her condolences, but also give them the space to grieve in private – something she said she understood from losing her husband Frank, who died in August 2015 at age 84.
‘I didn’t want to intrude on their private family time because I remember what that was like,’ she said.
‘It’s been five years, almost, since Frank passed, and you love your friends reaching out but you also desperately need that private time as a family.’
‘Anyway,’ she continued, ‘I was just grateful to have the time with them and comfort them a little bit and let them know that I believe with all my heart that I know where Regis is and I know who he’s with, because I had many, many conversations with him over the years about faith and where we go when this life is over, and he was very curious, as always.’
Gifford said that Joy told her their recent visit was one of the last times she heard Philbin laugh.
‘She said: “Kathie, he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time. I was so worried about him.”
‘That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh with him — one of my best friends in all of my lifetime.’