Gifford co-hosted Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee from 1988 to 2000. An emotional Gifford recalled her most recent and final visit with Philbin and his wife Joy during a visit to the East Coast from her home in Tennessee.
“I was up from Tennessee, where I live most of the time, and of course the first call I always make is to Regis and Joy,” Gifford said on Monday’s episode of the Today show. “I said, ‘Can we get together, can we have some lunch?’ So they came over about two weeks ago.”
Gifford, who like the Philbins also has a home in Connecticut, said, “We just had the best time.” But after the Philbins left, “I just thought to myself, ‘Lord, is that the last time I’m going to see my friend?’ Cause he was failing, I could tell.”
“I was just so grateful the Lord gave me that final time,” Gifford added. “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.'”
Gifford added, “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.”
Gifford thought of her late husband Frank who died in 2014 at 84, saying Philbin seemed aware that his life was nearing an end: “I think he was like Frank. He was just ready, you know?”
She also recalled her and Philbin’s spontaneous, unscripted conversations on Live!
“When we first started, we had no idea what we had, but we knew what we didn’t want,” Gifford said. “We didn’t want writers, we didn’t want a million producers, we didn’t want it overproduced. We just wanted to sit there and have fun together.”
She added, “We never talked before the show. We didn’t have what they call ‘elements’ in our business. He’d hold up the newspaper, and we’re off to the races. Or I’d say, [my son] Cody threw up, and we were off to the races. We never planned it.”
“He was an entertainer in his guts, and so was I, and so when we came together, although we didn’t have a friendship yet, we had a mutual respect for what we had accomplished already in our careers,” Gifford said. “And we had the same sense of humor, and I wasn’t afraid of him, and he sure as heck was not afraid of me, and we just took off like a rocket.”
She added of her working relationship with Philbin, “We always respected each other’s opinions so highly. You know, in all the years we were together, we never had one cross word.”
You can watch the video of Gifford’s appearance on Today above.