David Letterman has always idolized Johnny Carson. And Regis Philbin was in that exclusive club of TV hosts, Letterman said Saturday. "In the same category as Carson. Superlative," his statement said. "He was on our show a million times, always the best guest we ever had, charming, lovable and could take a punch." The longtime host of Live! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire died Friday at age 88. He appeared on Letterman's CBS late-night show 136 times, Variety reports, more than any other guest. Before that, he was on Letterman's NBC show many times. One of his appearances was on Letterman's first show after the 9/11 attacks. "I knew if you were there," Letterman told Philbin years later, per CNN, "we could make something of that."
Philbin's longtime on-air partner also paid tribute to "Reeg," per Today. "We spent 15 years together bantering and bickering and laughing ourselves silly," Kathie Lee Gifford posted on Instagram, "a tradition and a friendship we shared up to this very day." A co-author of Philbin's memoirs analyzed the host's on-air persona, per the New York Times. "Aggravation is an art form in his hands," Bill Zehme wrote. "Annoyance stokes him, sends him forth, gives him purpose. Ruffled, he becomes electric, full of play and possibility. There is magnificence in his every irritation." Letterman mourned the void created when Philbin left the air. "When he retired I lost interest in television," he said. "I love him." (Read more Regis Philbin stories.)