NEW YORK -- Regis Philbin couldn't leave without a joke.
Signing off from morning television after more than 28 years, he brought to a close his final hour hosting "Live! With Regis and Kelly" by telling viewers, "I'll always remember spending these mornings with all of you."
Then, as the studio audience's ovation subsided after the program's fade-out, he voiced a kidding postscript to that crowd in attendance. "I just thought of something I should have said," he quipped, "I really want to stay!"
No such luck. Philbin, who at 80 has logged more than 16,000 hours on television in a career that dates back to the 1950s, was making good on his decision to leave the daily TV grind, an announcement he delivered on his show last January.
And Friday's tribute was good for instant TV history, on and off the air.
The show opened with cameras following Philbin's walk from his dressing room to the stage, knocking on Kelly Ripa's door along the way. "I love you," she said softly as they stepped before the cameras.
The show was otherwise devoted to emotion-filled clip sequences of high jinks with Ripa and such stars as Dana Carvey and Ben Affleck demonstrating their Regis impersonations.
Philbin's parting gifts included a key and a plaque. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid a visit to thank Philbin for making the city a big part of his show, and presented him with a symbolic key.