The late Regis Philbin was a one-of-a-kind TV talent
This one really hurts.
The death of Regis Philbin, who passed away at the age of 88 — a month before his 89th birthday — resonates deeply with me. Reege meant so much to my career at The New York Post, particularly when, in 1999, I started writing a gossipy daily TV column called “The Starr Report.” Back then it was “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” and Reege would often mention my column in the “host chat” segment of the show, or hold it up for the cameras, but always in a humorous way — particularly if it involved one of their annual theme shows (“The World’s Largest Pumpkin Contest!” or a competition sponsored by Dr. Scholl’s come to mind).
He helped legitimize my efforts, and we became professional friends. I would often walk into the office to find a voicemail from Reege awaiting me: “Hey Starrman, it’s Regis,” he would say — and then he would tweak me about the column or ask how I was doing.
We’d chat frequently about his first TV boss, Joey Bishop. Reege told me off-the-record stories in that colorful, easy way that made him so popular with TV viewers over the years. He was Joey’s sidekick on an ill-fated ABC late-night show and I was writing a book about Joey. Reege was too much of a gentleman to be quoted in the book — but he steered me toward others who “knew the story.” For that, I will always be thankful and appreciative.
More than that, Reege became a friend and, in a way, a family member (in a professional way) — sort of ike that uncle who has your best interests at heart.
We met for lunch a handful of times in Midtown — these were always arranged by the show’s then-publicist, Debbie Dolins, a personal friend — and I always got a kick out of how people would buzz when Reege entered the restaurant. He said hello to everyone and was always jovial, just like he was on “Live.”
Later, when Reege become a superstar on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” he worked behind the scenes to get me on the show, twice, as a “genius” lifeline (yeah, I know, but it was his idea).
On “Live,” he would also find time to hold up my latest book or column. He’d send me personal, hand-written notes which are like gold to me. I will keep and cherish them forever.
In later years, after he left “Live,” we spoke over the phone a handful of times, but I got the sense that he wanted to enjoy his private life after spending so many years in front of the camera (he still holds the record — over 15,000 hours!)
Debbie Dolins and I would talk about Reege frequently and laugh about all those voicemails and column mentions. We both missed Reege and his irreplaceable aura.
They just don’t make them like Reege anymore — and words cannot express how much I respected and genuinely liked this TV legend. I know that so many others, inside and outside the TV industry, feel the same. It’s a loss that cannot be retrieved, but it’s nice to think that, somewhere, Reege is regaling an audience with anecdotes and one-liners.
That’s just the way he was.
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