Last night I had the opportunity to present Regis Philbin with the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Living Landmark Award, given to New Yorkers who’ve made extraordinary contributions to the city. It was so nice to have the chance to tell him how much he means, not just to New Yorkers, but to the millions of people whose lives he has touched as a TV personality for 50 years. Here’s what I said about my pal Rege:
It’s such an honor and privilege to be here this evening among so many distinguished men and women, true icons, Living Landmarks, as the award calls them.
At first I thought “landmark” seemed like an odd term to describe Regis Philbin. Landmarks, to me, are made of stone. They’re cold, impersonal, imposing structures on the horizon. That isn’t the Regis I know. He’s warm, charming and he can be pretty funny.
But then I realized, landmarks also help us find our direction, they remind us of where we’ve been and where we’re going, and help us enjoy the ride.
For so many of us in television, that’s what Regis is.
But Regis, I know you told me not to get too flowery or sentimental tonight. So, enough sweet talk. I have a bone to pick with you. You’ve been telling your viewers for years that I have a “thing” for you. You even told Kelly Ripa that I “goosed” you once at a party. I know your career started back in the days when “harass” was two words instead of one, but now that we’re at the same company I’d say that kind of talk could get you a red card from HR.
…If it weren’t true.
OK, I admit it. I guess I do have a little thing for you. And so do millions of other people.
While officially it all began in 1956 at KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, this passion of yours really started on the night of your high school prom when you saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on stage at the Copacabana. “Out came these two guys,” you’ve said, “One looked beautiful and sang gorgeously and the other was so funny.”
My first reaction to that story was, “Wow, Regis is old.” I mean Martin and Lewis at the Copacabana? Hello!
But why wouldn’t they be your role models? You went on to play both roles brilliantly! One man who had the comic timing and goofiness of Lewis and the savoir-faire and ease of Martin.
Your motto as a co-host is, “Don’t leave it out in the hallway.” That’s what makes the host chats you’ve had through the years with Sarah, Cyndy, Mary, Kathie Lee and Kelly so fresh and spontaneous. Unscripted, unrehearsed, and naturally funny and lovable…just like you.
Joy, you’ve been a patient wife and partner to put up with so many other women for so long, but when I read a line about you from Regis’ upcoming book, I realized you never had anything to worry about.
Regis wrote, “It’s really an understatement to say that she’s been a great wife, a great mother, a great cook, and loyal as the day is long.She wins all the arguments, returns your puny salvo with sheer dynamite, and asks you the most unanswerable questions you’ve ever heard. She came with the right name, Joy. You couldn’t improve on that—or on her, for that matter.”
So, while millions of us may have a thing for you Regis, I know only one woman gets the real thing…if you know what I mean.
Regis, we know your love affair with New York is as passionate as your love affair with Joy and your family. You’ve remained fiercely loyal to your community and to New York City. I never thought I’d be calling you a homeboy, but that’s what you are…a homeboy who’s never forgotten your roots. Whether that means establishing a scholarship fund at your alma mater, Cardinal Hayes High School, or supporting the John Doe Fund which gives men who’ve fallen on hard times a second chance. And of course, your pride and joy Notre Dame has been a grateful beneficiary of your generosity.
So now it’s time for the audience participation portion of the program. What Italian-Irish-American mensch holds the record, more than 16,746 ½ hours, on US television?
Is it: A. Herman Cain? B. Bruce Valanche? C. Donald Trump? Or, D. Regis Philbin?
That’s right, it’s D, Regis Philbin! And that’s our final answer!
For 50 years of hard work that made TV look so easy, for enriching us more than any turn on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” could, for being the fearless, caffeinated leader of our coffee clatch every morning for nearly 30 years on “Live,” and for being the bon vivant man about town…you are the man of the hour.
But for being you, a boy from the Bronx who hasn’t gotten too big for his britches, a loving husband and father and an all around great guy, you are a living landmark.
Congratulations you big lug.