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How Amazing Was John Carpenter’s Run on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 16, 2024
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If you were even vaguely aware of pop culture back in 1999, you knew about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the wildly popular game show hosted by Regis Philbin. The show had arguably its most memorable moment on November 19, 1999, when contestant John Carpenter of Hamden, Connecticut, became the first million-dollar winner.

But even more memorable than the fact that Carpenter was Millionaire's first millionaire was how he achieved that feat. The 31-year-old Internal Revenue Service employee didn't use a single lifeline on his way to the million-dollar question. And he could have won the top prize without using one. However, in a moment of unforgettable TV history, Carpenter asked Regis if he could use his "Phone a Friend" lifeline to call his parents. As it turned out, John Carpenter didn't need help – he just wanted to tell his dad that he was about to win $1 million on live TV.

Is that your final answer?

  • That question was: "Which of these U.S. presidents appeared on the TV series Laugh-In? The answer was Richard Nixon.

  • Carpenter took home around $600,000 in prize money, after taxes. Despite the whirlwind of media appearances that followed his game show victory, Carpenter kept his IRS job and still plays on a trivia team at a local brewery.

  • As of 2022, no contestant has ever won the million-dollar prize without using a lifeline.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
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