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Regis Philbin says farewell to "Live!" after 28 years

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Veteran talk show host Regis Philbin on Friday ended his run on the popular television program “Live!” with well-wishers including Mayor Michael Bloomberg stopping by to pay tribute to his nearly three decades on the daily show.

Television host Regis Philbin blows a kiss goodbye during his final show of "Live With Regis and Kelly" in New York, November 18, 2011. After nearly three decades hosting the show that became "Live With Regis and Kelly", Philbin stepped down Friday with a few well wishes to his colleagues and fans. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Philbin, 80, bid farewell to the syndicated morning show after 28 years on the air, saying viewers had always told him they watched the show “because it makes them feel better, and it can’t get better than that.”

“I’ll never be able to top that,” he added in his sign-off remarks before a star-studded audience that included Tony Danza, Alan Alda, Diane Sawyer, Donald Trump, Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira and John McEnroe.

Philbin announced in September that Friday would be his final appearance on “Live! with Regis and Kelly,” which will be renamed “Live! With Kelly” as Kelly Ripa welcomes a series of guest co-hosts starting next with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

Ripa, who joined Philbin in 2001 replacing former co-host Kathie Lee Gifford, recalled in a halting voice her first-day jitters. As the hosts came on stage, the audience cheered and Philbin told her, “You see that sweetie, that’s all for you.”

The final show featured a several video clips and montages, including many of guests and comedians ranging from Dana Carvey to Barney the Dinosaur imitating Philbin’s signature syncopated and enthusiastic manner of speech.

Gifford was on hand but did not appear on stage.

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A series of younger stars including Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez and Anne Hathaway all offered thanks and congratulations to Philbin in taped tributes.

Bloomberg presented Philbin with a key to the city, and suggested new jobs for Philbin including cabbie, New York Yankee, underwear model and New York mayor, with images of the retiring TV host digitally inserted into appropriate photos.

“You have been New York City’s biggest fan for 28 years and I just wanted to come and tell you New York feels the same way about you,” Bloomberg said, adding that the city enjoyed tourism business from people coming to the city for the show.

Philbin’s wife Joy, who often co-hosted with him, appeared, along with the couple’s two daughters, who in taped, split screen interviews said “he’s going to drive my mother nuts,” when asked about Philbin’s prospects after the show.

Philbin said he would be busy promoting his new book “How I Got This Way” for at least the next several weeks.

The cast of “Rent” performed, and Disney CEO and president Robert Iger announced a plaque with Philbin’s image had been installed outside the show’s Manhattan studio.

“Live!” has enjoyed a loyal audience and solid viewership, and earned Philbin two Emmys for outstanding daytime talk show host. He received a lifetime achievement award by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Emmys.

The show began in 1983 when Philbin created “The Morning Show” for WABC in his native New York City. Gifford joined him in 1985, and in 1988 the program won national syndication.

He hosted the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” for its 1999 U.S. debut, and is the Guinness World Record holder for most time on camera, with more than 16,500 career hours.

“Live! with Regis and Kelly” is distributed by Disney-ABC Television Group, a division of Walt Disney Co.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Jerry Norton