There's a handful of cases here, and the answer varies:
- you're talking to a gearhead who wants a shiny toy.
- you're talking to someone who has pretty specific ideas about what pictures they want to take
- you're talking to someone who "Just Loves Photography" and wants to "Get In To It"
In the first case, the gearhead probably already has a short list of toys they'd like to acquire. Identify the most expensive one and tell him (it's probably a male person) to buy that one. Anything will do as a fetish object, as long as you believe, after all.
In the second case, the kind of photographs they want to take will dictate the gear. The answer is probably "lower end DSLR with a decent longish prime lens" because they either want to take closeups of flowers buried in a mass of "bokeh" or they want to take pictures of their kids, and that's the answer either way. You should still listen to their problem, and pick out something that will solve it, though. Maybe they want to do sports.
In the third case, which is really the most interesting, the correct answer is almost certainly their cell phone. If you really want to Get In To photography, you've got to have the camera with you, and everyone's got their cell phone with them. If they have a smart phone (who other than me does not?) they should buy some camera apps for it, and play with them to find one they like. You can do excellent work with an iPhone. Your friend should get to the point where they can do excellent work before they go investing a stack of money in something they will "outgrow" immediately anyways. Once you get on the gear train, it's pretty hard to stop upgrading. So, stay off the gear train as long as possible. Gear is mostly irrelevant anyways.