Legendary TV host Regis Philbin talks health and post-retirement life

Regis Philbin attends a press conference on his departure from ‘LIVE! with Regis and Kelly’ at ABC Studios on November 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Regis Philbin attends a press conference on his departure from ‘LIVE! with Regis and Kelly’ at ABC Studios on November 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

He has one of the most recognized names in Hollywood; a name that has reached such status that it doesn't even require a last name: Regis. Among Regis Philbin's accomplishments is having hosted 24 seasons of the daytime talk show "Live!," from which he retired in 2011. These days, instead of interviewing celebrities, Philbin is tackling something that is a bit closer to his heart – literally. The Emmy-award winning talk show host and his wife, Joy, are now the faces of the Take Cholesterol to Heart campaign.

The impetus for his participation in the new campaign, which launched in Oct. 2017, is his own health issues, including having triple bypass surgery in 2007. Philbin said he was surprised to learn that many high cholesterol-sufferers stop taking their statin – a common drug for lowering cholesterol. According to the Mayo Clinic, some patients experience muscle pain, leading to them discontinuing the medication. Because of his positive experience, Philbin said he wanted to share his story, and hopefully, encourage others to talk to their doctors about their cholesterol and heart health.

Regis Philbin is the face of the new Take Cholesterol to Heart Campaign, which launched in early October. Philbin had triple-bypass surgery in 2007. CONTRIBUTED

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Now 86, Philbin discusses with the AJC how he discovered his health issues, how he manages his health and how he’s enjoying retirement.

How did you find out that you had heart and cholesterol-related health problems? What did they entail?

Back in 1992, I was shooting a commercial down in Florida on a cruise ship with Kathie Lee Gifford. I started experiencing chest pains, so they called a doctor, and he told me I needed to go the hospital immediately. I was shocked to learn I had a blocked artery and would need angioplasty right away. Then in 2007, I found out I had to have triple bypass surgery. I couldn’t believe it.

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It can be scary to find out that you’ll need such a serious procedure. Can you talk about your health journey, including your surgery?

I remember having shortness of breath and some chest pain when I was on the tennis court and also on the treadmill at the gym. I knew I had to go see my doctor. It was then that I was told I needed to have triple bypass surgery. I remember calling my good friend Dave Letterman who had just been through it himself, and he was very helpful. He put me in touch with the surgeons who did his surgery, and he called and reserved the same hospital room and even the same operating room that he’d been in. Of course, I ended up in Dave’s monologue a few times, and he had some fun with this.

Regis Philbin, left, shares a laugh with comedian David Letterman Feb. 2000. Philbin was Letterman’s first guest since returning from quintuple bypass surgery on Jan. 14, 2000. (AP Photo/CBS, Barbara Nitke)

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How has your lifestyle changed?

Before my experience with heart disease, I didn’t have much discipline when it came to my diet. Since then, I still enjoy foods I’ve always loved, but I mostly stick to chicken and vegetables for weekly dinners. I try to practice a little more moderation. I work out at a gym around three days a week and lift weights to help my strength and muscle tone. I don’t do as much cardio as I should.

It can be difficult to institute and keep up with healthy habits when you have a demanding career. How has your daily routine changed?

I don't know that retiring had an impact on my health, but I will say, although I felt it was the right time to leave, I do miss working. I had been doing a talk show for more than 50 years in Los Angeles and New York. Since I retired, it has been relaxing to have the freedom to do what I want every day and travel with Joy. We love going to California to be with our kids and grandkids.
VIDEO: What you need to Know -- Regis Philbin

What You Need To Know: Regis Philbin

What tips would you have for others to integrate good habits into their daily routines?

Whether it’s your heart health and picking the right [medicine] for you, or any other health issues you are facing, it’s so important that people feel comfortable talking to their doctor to ensure they have all the information. You have to be your own best advocate for your health.