My ol’ friend Regis Philbin has passed away.
My brother sent me a link to an article on the news of his passing Saturday. Philbin was a month shy of his 89th birthday.
I never met him in person, but I did, indeed, feel like I had lost an old friend.
In my bedroom is a signed photo of him in a frame. It was in response to one of only a few fan letters I have ever written.
“Reege” made a name for himself in television decades before I first discovered him in the late 1980s when “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” first became nationally syndicated.
My Grandma Deal usually kept the television on “to have a fuss a going” in the mornings after I would spend the night at her house.
“Reege” and Kathie Lee would spend the first 15 minutes of the show doing what Reege called “host chat.” He is credited with creating and perfecting the formula.
It was some of the best and most vibrant 15 minutes on television. It was true reality TV, not this fake contrived mess that makes up the genre these days.
For those 15 minutes, Reege and Kathie would talk about what was going on in their lives. He was a likable, affable guy and I could relate to him. It seems as if his plans were always going awry and he was walking from one foible to another. He could tell about hanging out with David Letterman, Perry Como, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin and the Brat Pack. He could tell about being humbled by being recognized out on the street, only for someone to misidentify him as “Region Philbert”. He could even talk about having the munchies and sneaking into the kitchen to eat Ritz Crackers and peanut butter at 2:30 in the morning and make it seem like riveting television.
I could identify with Reege. He seemed to be just a regular Joe from the Bronx who was a devout Catholic, graduated from his beloved Notre Dame, served his country in the Navy, and after serving as a page at The Tonight Show on NBC, got bit by the showbiz bug. He was blessed to make it to the big time.
From that summer sampling at Grandma’s, I was hooked. From then on, I would record it on those long ago days when there was such a thing as a VCR. I would watch it afternoons when I got home from school.
It helped me cope with all the pressures of the teen years and with dealing with chemistry and algebra. It was nice just to escape for an hour and have a few laughs. Generally, he liked to poke fun at himself.
During my college years, I wrote a critique of the show for the student newspaper. I gave Live five stars. I would have ranked it higher if I could have.
Later, Gifford left to pursue other projects and Kelly Ripa took over the slot. Reege retired from the show in 2011, after over 23 years on the morning program.
He also hosted and I followed him on ABC’s game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
At the time of his death, he held the world record for most hours on U.S. television, with more than 16,700 hours on air. Think about that. That is almost two full years on television. And, remember all the hundreds of famous stars from the golden age of TV who, while household names, were not on the air nearly that long.
Thank you, Regis Philbin, for all the laughs and for all the memories on those weekday mornings. I’ll miss you my old friend.
• Jason Deal is a staff writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.