Television icon, Regis Philbin, has passed away at the age of 88. No one spent more hours on American television; no one was more welcome inside our home, via a television.
I had known about the morning show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, but my first real introduction to the brilliance that was Regis Philbin, was when he hosted the brand new game show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, in the summer of 1999.
He was so perfect in that role, elevating every moment. He was the best.
You have this premise where an everyday person has a chance to win a life-changing amount of money, and seated across from them is Regis, who never failed to accentuate the serious moments, while filling the gaps with humour.
My favourite TV personalities – and this is a blog post for another day – are the ones who can seamlessly transition between serious topics, and humour, without ever making it feel uncomfortable or contrived.
As I’m writing this, I realize that Regis was probably the first one to introduce me to that style. He made it okay to be both funny, and sincere, in the same breath.
I like to think I’ve adopted a similar style, both on this blog and in real life. Subconsciously, he probably played a part in that.
My favourite comedian is the late, great Don Rickles, with whom Regis was good friends. Don Rickles was effortlessly hilarious. He would make a joke, and even if it was an insult, you’d feel loved. That’s a real gift.
Don and Regis, together, were magic, whether it was Don as a guest on Regis’s show, or both of them as guests on late night talk shows. I’ve been going through YouTube clips of them and it is pure joy, every time.
The two of them were in a class of their own and I can only imagine the laughs they’re catching up on right now.
Regis Philbin was, basically, the first shift babysitter whenever I was sick and stayed home from school, as a kid. Bob Barker was the second shift babysitter.
I would tune into Live! with Regis and Kelly at 9AM, while under a blanket on the couch.
I read that when Kelly Ripa became his co-host, the young-audience demographics increased by 80%. While that may be true, and Kelly was a fine co-host, I was watching for Regis.
Then again, I was 10, so I probably didn’t even qualify for that demographic.
He made being on TV look so easy. He was in midday form, at 9AM. I especially enjoyed the Travel Trivia segment, where he would get to talk to that day’s contestant, over the phone. And then when he would reach over to spin the wheel, to see what they were playing for, I’d always worry he’d fall out of his chair because the wheel looked far away.
Why couldn’t Kelly spin the wheel? Or, get Gelman – the producer – to do it. At least put the wheel a bit closer to Regis!
These were the thoughts going through my little brain, as all I wanted was for Regis to be safe.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home, sick. When 9AM rolled around, I turned on the TV to watch Live! with Regis and Kelly, but they weren’t there. Breaking News coverage had already begun.
That is how I found out what was happening.
In the weeks and months that followed, Regis felt like a reassuring presence and a pillar of strength, during a time of uncertainty. I always thought about that, even years later, whenever I tuned in and saw the American flag sitting on the desk in front of him and Kelly.
It can be a weird feeling when a celebrity passes away. People, like me, only knew Regis Philbin through a television screen. I only saw what the camera showed. Sometimes, that can be deceiving.
I’ve been in the audience of a television show before, some hosts can flip a switch and turn into someone else when the camera is off.
And yet, I never thought that Regis was trying to be anyone, but himself. All of the messages online, from the people who knew him, have made it abundantly clear that he was universally loved and the person we welcomed into our home, via a television, was the same person who would’ve walked through our front door.
Even if it was a small one, Regis Philbin had an impact on my life. I can promise you I am not the only one who can say that.
Thanks for being you, Regis.
There will never be another.