When I was five years old, I began watching Regis Philbin on TV. “LIVE!” and “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” quickly became staples in my house. And I realized, even at a very young age, that I wanted to be on TV— to tell stories and interview celebrities and be energetic… and just be myself.
I soon learned that Regis’s birthday (August 25th) was the day before mine. And I picked-up his latest CD, “When You’re Smiling”. The track that stuck-out was his version of “It Had to Be You.”
Over several years I sent Regis letters, cards and videos – as well as photos of me dressed as him for Halloween and audio of me doing my Regis impression. And he always answered, sending back notes, letters and autographed pictures. On one of them he wrote, “Someday we’ll meet.”
That day became November 11, 2008. Veterans Day. I had it off from school. I finally became old enough (10) to attend “LIVE!” in-person. Regis’s people arranged it so my parents and I sat in the front row and I got to meet Regis during one of the commercial breaks. After the show, he took me up to his office, showed me around and even gave me one of his ties. I also got to do a short interview with him for my elementary school’s TV station, which he ended with, “Ladies and Gentleman, the new Regis.”
I attended “LIVE!” six more times over the next three years — and we caught-up after each show. I also got to see Regis and his lovely wife Joy in concert in 2010. The last time I saw Regis host “LIVE” was the second-to-last Friday he was on the show: November 11, 2011. After giving him a photo collage montage of the two of us, he said, “This isn’t the last you’ll see Regis!”
And he was right. Regis went-on to host “Crowd Goes Wild” on “Fox Sports 1” in Summer and Fall of 2013. I attended two tapings of that show, as well as the Don Rickles career retrospective he hosted at the Westbury Theatre in 2016.
My final public time spent with Regis wasn’t scheduled or planned. It was Thursday August 17th, 2017. I was in New York City to see a couple of films. One of the movie theaters was near Regis’ apartment building, which (as many people know) is right across the street from the ABC Studios where “LIVE!” is done. About 10 minutes before the movie, I decided to walk by the building… and right out front, getting ready to go up to his vacation home in CT, was Regis. He was packing the trunk of the car. We both couldn’t believe it! It was a week before he turned 86 and I turned 19.
Regis was also extremely kind and generous — doing things with and for me (and friends and family members) that will remain private. They are memories I’ll treasure forever.
I’m so grateful that ABC invited him onto the set of the new “Millionaire” revival in March to spend some time with good friend and new host Jimmy Kimmel, as they took a trip down memory lane. I’m also glad that his daughter, J.J., convinced him to appear on her ABC sitcom “Single Parents”. That episode aired this past April. It’s so nice that they got to share that experience together.
Regis Philbin is a television legend and icon. He still holds the record for most hours on U.S. TV. He revolutionized what talk shows and game shows can be. He was funny and wise and spectacularly spontaneous. There’s no one else like him, and there will never be anyone like him.
More than once he told me, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do.” And I know he’ll be watching every step of the way.
Regis, thank you for everything. To quote the end of the song that kind of started it all, “It had to be you. Wonderful you. It Had to be You.”