The past few months have been a whirlwind of recording studios, business meetings and charity events for Kathie Lee Gifford, so she’s especially looking forward to some quiet time with close friends — like her former cohost Regis Philbin. “He’s such a sweetheart. I love him to pieces,” Kathie Lee exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “He’s back now from California, so we’ll spend a lot of time together this summer.”

The pair’s effortless rapport, which viewers got to witness firsthand when they cohosted Live With Regis and Kathie Lee from 1988 to 2000, continues to be a precious commodity in both of their lives. “They’re like army buddies,” says an insider, who calls their relationship loving and supportive. “They went through a unique time together, pioneering the early-morning TV format. They genuinely like and love each other.”

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford
Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire

Regis, 87, a broadcasting veteran, recognized a kindred spirit when he met Kathie Lee Johnson in 1985. “My God, she is so alive,” he gushed when the bubbly redhead replaced Ann Abernathy as his cohost of The Morning Show in 1985. “I knew it was the beginning of something huge,” Kathie Lee, 65, recalls. “Regis and I were instant.”

After getting good ratings, the pair went national with Live With Regis and Kathie Lee, where they began each broadcast with 15 minutes of candid, personal chatter. It’s a gimmick seen on many shows today, but back then it felt fresh and daring — as when Kathie Lee discussed her husband Frank Gifford‘s 1997 infidelity.

Though they clicked on-air, Kathie Lee and Regis didn’t see each other a lot socially — but that changed after Kathie Lee left Live in 2000. “The two couples got together in Connecticut over dinner and these dates became a staple of their relationship,” confides the insider. Regis and Frank bonded over football while Kathie Lee and Joy Philbin “became close friends too.”

Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When Kathie Lee joined Today in 2008, Regis, who left Live in 2011, began to make frequent on-air visits. He and Joy were also there for Kathie Lee when Frank passed away in 2015. “My dearest friends knew I was going through a terrible time. A desert,” says Kathie Lee.

In the 34 years since they first met, Kathie Lee and Regis’ friendship has only grown stronger and become more precious to both of them. “They are true survivors in a tough business. They both love to laugh. They get the joke and they make the joke,” says the insider. “They sincerely want the best for each other.”

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