Regis Philbin died yesterday at age 89.
By all accounts, the veteran talk and game show host was well loved. He was teamed with Kathie Lee Gifford for 15 years, Kelly Ripa for a decade, and wife Joy Philbin for half a century. But Regis’s stock-in-trade was getting mad. He was a witty and effortlessly charming TV personality for nearly 60 years, but when he got annoyed? That’s when he became REGIS.
So, when I had an opportunity to interview Regis on the red carpet at a benefit for amfAR at Cipriani Wall Street in May of 2006, I was on a mission. My goal was to bring out the persona I had enjoyed on TV for decades, particularly on Late Night with David Letterman, where his riffing with Dave was a delight.
The following is a transcript.
I asked Regis a few questions about the event, and the charity, and he gave me the expected replies. Then…
ME: I understand that you are somewhat of a Luddite. Is that correct?
REGIS (getting mad): A what?
ME: You’re not a fan of technology.
REGIS: A Luddite?
ME: Yes, a Luddite. That’s the term for someone who is anti-technology.
REGIS: Did you just call me a freaking Luddite? (to everyone on the red carpet) This guy just called me a freaking Luddite!
At this point, Regis broke into his Angry Regis and the red carpet stopped. Regis and I became the show.
REGIS: Let’s put it this way, okay Will? I’m computer-free. Got a problem with that? Is there something wrong with being computer-free?
ME: (silently shaking my head no)
REGIS: I’ll tell you what I got here, Willie. (he reaches into his pocket and fumbles around) Let me show you, babe. (pulls out a cell phone) I carry Joy’s cell phone. I don’t know how to use it. I don’t wanna know. But I carry it.
ME: (silent laughter)
REGIS: I’ll tell you, it just got by me Will. I find myself unencumbered. She’s on the computer all day and night, answering email and whatever that stuff is. I don’t want to do that.
ME: And is it true that you are in the Guinness Book of World Records?
REGIS: Did you call me a Luddite again? What’s wrong with you? Yes, I am Will. I’ve been on television more than anyone else – nearly 16,000 hours.
ME: And how much longer is that gonna go on, Regis? (now I got a laugh)
REGIS: After I get through with you? Never! I’m all done, Willie!
Regis extended his arm and gave me a warm handshake.
REGIS: I’m gonna hang around as long as somebody like you will stop and ask me a question.
ME: Thank you Regis. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.
REGIS: Thanks a lot. Good luck to you.
Thank you, Regis, for allowing me to be your straight man. I’ll never forget it.