Half-Irish, half-Albanian appears to be an impeccable genetic cocktail. There’s only two I know about, and both are pretty impressive. One is my wife. The other is the late Regis Philbin, who has now left us at the age of 88. I’d bet the house that most of today’s chatter will be about the best known stretch of his career, which began in the late 1980s. It falls to the obsessions of this blog to talk about his earlier years in show biz.
Philbin (b. 1931) grew up in the Bronx, attended Notre Dame and served in the Navy. His first wife, Kay was the daughter of the vaudeville team of Faylen and Hughes. He broke into TV as a page on The Tonight Show during the Jack Paar regime, an experience from which he learned MUCH. By 1962 he was serving as the announcer of the show. In 1964, he was given Steve Allen’s old time slot for a talk-variety show of his own, notoriously only lasting four months. From 1967 through 1969 he was the sidekick on The Joey Bishop Show, where he staged a famous stunt of quitting on the air, the ostensible reason being low ratings and Joey’s constant insults, but the whole thing was just a planned publicity gimmick. During this period, Philbin also recorded an LP of pop standards, and guest starred on TV shows like Get Smart, Love American Style, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, That Girl, The Jimmy Stewart Show, The San Pedro Beach Bums, and Fantasy Island. He’s in movies like Everything You Aways Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972), SST: Death Flight (1977), and Sextette (1978) with Mae West!
Through most of the ’70s he also worked a lot in local television, and occasionally hosted short-lived game shows. This culminated with Live with Regis and Kathy Lee (1988-2000), then taking Bert Parks’ old role as host of Miss America (1991-1996), then starring on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (1999-2002, and spin-offs), Live with Regis and Kelly (2001-2011), the first season of America’s Got Talent (2006) and a zillion other things. All of which add up to his status as Guinness World Record holder as the human being who’d spent the greatest number of hours on American television (over 16,000 hours as of a decade ago).
A sad day for us, but a happy one for Regis. God is now his co-host.