In the days since the passing of Regis Philbin, who died on Saturday at the age of 88, his former cohost Kathie Lee Gifford has been reflecting on their many years of friendship. Now, she’s come forward to talk about how Philbin helped her through one of the most difficult periods of her life, which came when her late husband Frank Gifford cheated on her.
Gifford was married to Frank from 1986 until his death in 2015, but they went through a rough patch in 1997, when he was caught having an affair with married flight attendant Suzen Johnson. Though Gifford was able to rebuild her relationship with her husband and stay married to him, she told People in an interview this week that it was one of the toughest times in her life, and Philbin was right there to support her through it.
When news of the cheating scandal broke to the press, Philbin did everything he could to protect Gifford from further scrutiny.
“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,” recalled Gifford, 66. “But I always knew Regis had my back. He always protected me on the air. 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.”
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There are no words to fully express the love I have for my precious friend, Regis. I simply adored him and every day with him was a gift. We spent 15 years together bantering and bickering and laughing ourselves silly—a tradition and a friendship we shared up to this very day. I smile knowing somewhere in Heaven, at this very moment, he’s making someone laugh. It brings me great comfort knowing that he had a personal relationship with his Lord that brought him great peace. I send all the love in my heart to Joy, to his children, to the rest of his family and to the innumerable people he touched over his legendary life. There has never been anyone like him. And there never will be.
Gifford also recalled the last time she went to visit Philbin at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“I was just so grateful the Lord gave me that final time,” Gifford said of their last meeting. “And it was so precious because when I talked to Joy the day that I found out right after he had passed, she said, ‘Kathie he hadn’t laughed in a long, long time.’ She said, ‘I was so worried about him.'”
“I think he was like Frank,” Gifford added. “He was just ready, you know? … And she said, ‘The day that we came to have lunch with you was the last time I heard him laugh.’ That will forever be a precious gift the Lord gave me, that I got to laugh again with one of my best friends in all my lifetime.”