Talk about an understatement. Philbin, 75, has made an impressive recovery since his March 14 triple-bypass operation. "Once he got out there it was like he'd never left," says Live executive producer Michael Gelman. Still, the host tells PEOPLE, "I'd put myself at about 70 percent, tops.... After all, they do crack your chest open." Philbin spent six days at Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center walking the halls daily, a common prescription for bypass patients—if an uncommon sight for rubbernecking fellow patients. "It was like a little Easter parade for them," he jokes. "Regis was the Easter bunny."
In the weeks that followed, Philbin received what he calls "overwhelming" support, including 15,000 fan e-mails. By his side, wife Joy "was terrific," he says. Plus, "Madonna sent me a beautiful bathrobe—and so did Halle Berry!" He also tuned in to see cohost Kelly Ripa each morning and got hooked on American Idol too: "That's a slick show." To keep his recovery on track, Philbin is sticking to a diet heavy on fish and greens, and he's still making the rounds—now on the track at his gym. "Every day I do get stronger," he says. "That's the key to this whole thing. Keep walking."