With more than 50 years in broadcasting under his belt, and nearly 17,000 hours on air (he’s officially in the Guinness Book for that one), Regis Philbin is that rare entertainer that just about everybody knows.
You’ve either seen him on Live! (first with Kathie Lee, later with Kelly), or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (even if you didn’t watch, chances are you’ve asked, “Is that your final answer?” at least once since the 1999 debut of that megahit), or perhaps you enjoyed him on America’s Got Talent, or on any of the other myriad of game shows, talk shows and guest appearances he’s done over 55 years in the business of entertainment.
There’s also the books he’s written (three of them to be exact). Maybe you’ve read one of his books or heard him sing. I bet you didn’t know he was a singer. And, oh, he has a nightclub act too.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that he made sure to cement that Guinness World Record by adding even more hours to his on-camera stats last year, with his most recent TV show venture: launching the Fox Sports 1 show, Crowd Goes Wild, for the fledgling network.
Yup, it’s official: everybody knows Regis.
Don’t Forget Your Roots
With all those accomplishments under his belt, it’s the places he came from that keep a hold on Regis’s heart. His philanthropical endeavors have led him back to the High School he graduated from in 1949, Cardinal Hayes High School, in the Bronx. Here he’s given his time and his charity, putting half a dozen kids through their education. As he says, “You just don’t get that kind of an education all the time, and I think it would be very beneficial for them to get that chance. That’s why I do it.”
Perhaps even nearer and dearer is his university alma mater, Notre Dame. Not only is the 1953 graduate a huge fan of the football team, but he’s also helping over a dozen students fill the financial gaps needed to complete their educations at, as he calls it, “One of the great institutions of education in the world today.”
And he’s always ready to lend his skills to a cause, repeatedly hosting Samsung’s Four Seasons of Hope benefit gala, doing countless charitable episodes of everything from Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader to Millionaire to Jeopardy, and, most recently, being a celebrity ambassador for the Noreen Fraser Foundation on September 11th. “Philanthropy should be spread around to a lot of people,” he says. “I’m not working that much anymore, but I enjoy the things that I started and that I’m continuing to do.”Or, to put it more simply, “They need help and I do it.”
Regis is proud to have been given the opportunity to mentor these students. When asked what was the best piece of advice he ever received Regis was quick to reply. “The best advice I ever received was when I was in the service, and I was friends with a Marine Major who was older than me, and a lot tougher than me. When I was packing up and ready to leave, he said, ‘What are you gonna do with the rest of your life?,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. I see television, but I don’t know if I could do it. I don’t have any experience.’ And he said to me, ‘Don’t you know you can have anything you want in this life; you’ve only got to want it bad enough? And do you want it?’ And I said, ‘But, Major, you don’t understand. I don’t really have any talent, no experience.’ And he screamed out, ‘I said, DO YOU WANT IT?!’ And that was what was important: do you want it? And I said yes for the first time. Yes, I want it. That’s how it all started.”
Though famous for eschewing technology, Regis recently joined Twitter, but he still keeps in touch with the students he’s helped via good, old fashioned, personal correspondence. “The letters are so terrific. I’m so glad that these kids have the opportunity that I had.”
In the summer of 2013, Regis debuted his latest TV show: Crowd Goes Wild. Unlike his previous show, this one was a sports show and featured a panel of hosts. “It was a change of scenery for me,” he says, speaking about the differences between the two shows. “What I was doing before was an absolute talk show, and every time I did talk about sports people would get a little fidgety because it was 9:00am and most women don’t want to hear about sports.”
The show ended its run in May 2014, giving Regis just over a hundred more hours of screen and air time. The experience brought him full circle, “Years and years ago, my first shot at TV, I was pinch hitting for a sportscaster at KFMD in San Diego, which is how it all started.” And though things sometimes got a little crowded with six other hosts, it’s an experience Regis is happy he had, “I love sports and I enjoyed my months with the team. I accomplished what I wanted to do.”
He’s currently focusing on guest roles and simply enjoying his time. He makes monthly appearances on the Rachael Ray Show, was a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman. Retirement doesn’t work well for 83-year old Regis.nHe is now joining NBC’s “Today” show once a month, reuniting him with his long time co-host Kathie Lee Gifford who co-anchors the fourth hour with Hoda Kotb. “What gives me joy right now is to be invited on a show, and to do a successful job as a guest.”
Why does he do it? Why does he continue to do it? Simple: “I like laughs, I like people to be happy, and I hope that’s what’s happened.”
It’s always thrilling to get Regis back on our screens, adding to his Guinness record, and maybe breaking another one in the process.
As he says in his 2011 book, ‘How I Got This Way’: “I’ve spent nearly seventeen thousand hours in front of a TV camera. That’s a record in our business ... and now that I think about it, it was exciting. It was fun. It was more than I ever thought I would accomplish.”
To put those nearly 17,000 hours into perspective: that’s 698 days spent in front of a camera. Nearly 23 months. On average, over your lifetime, you will spend 13,148 hours in the bathroom, 1,032 hours on hold, and more than 2,760 hours laughing. Combine those three things and you’re still not close to how many hours Regis has spent on your TV.
With that many hours in front of a camera, it’s no wonder, “Everybody knows Regis”. And if you would like to get to know Regis even better you can reach him on Twitter via the handle @Regis. Who knows, in a few years he may hold the Guinness record for most followers! - DUO