Regis Philbin’s passing on Saturday sent shockwaves across the country as one of the most iconic TV personalities died of natural causes at the age of 88. Throughout his illustrious career, perhaps none of his roles stood out more than his time as the host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The game show saw Philbin at the helm from its inception until 2002 with occasional appearances by him in later years.
There is no one moment bigger in Philbin’s tenure with the hit ABC game show than the first ever winner, John Carpenter. What made this win so ingrained in the minds of viewers was not the fact that he became the first million-dollar winner on the show, but the way he did so on the final question. When Philbin read off the question and answers, Carpenter quickly asked to call his parents as part of the ‘Phone a Friend’ lifeline he had left. The question was, “Which of these U.S. presidents appeared on the television series, Laugh-In?” In calling his father, Carpenter famously quipped, “Hi, Dad. I don’t really need your help. I just wanted to let you know that I’m gonna win the million dollars.” As the audience erupted and Philbin smirked, Carpenter correctly answered Richard Nixon to which Philbin said, “Well, my gosh,” before turning to Carpenter’s wife in the audience and saying, “What can I say except: Debbie, you’re going to Paris and this is the final answer heard all around the world. He’s won a million dollars.”
Carpenter held the record for largest single win in game show history until Rahim Oberholtzer topped him on the show Twenty One with $1.12 million. He returned on a Champions Edition of the quiz show where he won another $250,000, half of which was split with charity. The Connecticut native, who was 31-years-old when he won, continued to work for the IRS after winning.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire reached its peak with Philbin as the face of the franchise. The show has continued to run in some form ever since it first debuted in 1999. After Philbin, Meredith Vieira filled in as host from 2002 to 2013 before Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews and Chris Harrison all served in the main chair. The show recently was led by Jimmy Kimmel this year as part of a celebrity edition that featured nine episodes.