Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin spent 15 years together on air as the co-hosts of the wildly popular talk show “Live! With Regis And Kathie Lee,” but even after their run ended, the two stayed very close all the way up to his death over the weekend at age 88. She opened up to PEOPLE for its upcoming issue about Philbin, and specifically talked about how he protected her during her husband Frank Gifford’s cheating scandal in 1997.
“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 told the magazine.
“But I always knew Regis had my back. He always protected me on the air,” she continued. “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. And he always supported me in all of that.”
Philbin’s family announced over the weekend that he died of what is now being officially called a heart attack. Gifford was on the “TODAY” show on Monday and talked about the last time she saw Philbin, which was just a couple weeks prior to his passing.
She said she’d traveled from her home in Tennessee to spend some time in New York. “The first call I always make is to Regis and [his wife] Joy … so I said, ‘Can we get together? Can we have some lunch?'” Gifford said.
The three of them got together to eat at her house and Gifford admitted she “sensed much more fragility in him than I’d seen in him since the last time in January out in Los Angeles.”
She continued, “We sat right here on my screened porch and we laughed ourselves sick,” she said. After they left, she wondering that was “the last time I’m going to see my friend.” Gifford said she could tell that Philbin’s health “was failing.”
Philbin had a career that spanned decades, starting with his own talk show in the early ’60s. He went on to work on many different talk shows and host several game shows. In the late ’90s, he found more success as the host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which was a huge success. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most hours on American television.