Regis Philbin might have had his own morning talk show, but he still appeared as a frequent guest on late-night shows, especially when David Letterman hosted CBS' The Late Show. Following Philbin's death, Letterman released a heartbreaking statement, comparing the Live With Regis and Kelly host to another American television icon, Johnny Carson. Philbin died late Friday at age 88, his family said Saturday.
Letterman said Philbin was in "the same category as Carson" and "superlative" in a statement to Variety. "He was on our show a million times, always the best guest we ever had, charming, lovable, and could take a punch," Letterman said. "When he retired I lost interest in television. I love him."
Philbin appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman 75 times and appeared on NBC's Late Night With David Letterman frequently as well. The only guest Letterman booked more than Philbin was animal handler Jack Hanna, who appeared on the show 136 times. Philbin's most famous appearance on the show came on Sept. 17, 2001, Letterman's first episode after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. "The American people want to see you back again. They gotta see you, Dave," Philbin told Letterman when the two discussed coming back to television.
Other late-night hosts remembered Philbin with touching tributes. "Regis was a great broadcaster, a good friend and a tremendous amount of fun," Jimmy Kimmel tweeted. "He leaves behind a beautiful family and a TV legacy that will likely go unmatched. Regis, I hope our friend Rickles met you at the pearly gates with open arms and a slew of the insults you loved so much." Former Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson called Philbin a "friend and a mentor," adding he will "never forget his kindness and support."
Philbin died late Friday night, one month before his 89th birthday, his family told PEOPLE. "His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him – for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about," their statement read. "We thank his fans and admirers for their incredible support over his 60-year career and ask for privacy as we mourn his loss."
His family said Philbin died of natural causes. The medical examiner in Greenwich, Connecticut later told TMZ the cause of death was heart disease and that Philbin died at Greenwich Hospital. Philbin's television career stretched back six decades. He hosted Live With Regis and Kathie Lee and the original U.S. edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? for ABC.