”I always wanted to be a TV talker,” says Regis Philbin. He got his wish. This year Philbin celebrates his 30th anniversary of yakking, riding high on the syndicated morning talk show LIVE with Regis & Kathie Lee. The four-year-old hit, with 10 million viewers weekly, is his gold medal after a three-decade gabathon that has included eight local talk shows (in San Diego, New York, L.A., Chicago, and St. Louis) and five attempts at going national. Now, on a stool beside cohost Kathie Lee Gifford, he has found the perfect Philbinesque place to park his peculiar, italicized personality. Lurching forward, hands chopping, he’s benignly dangerous, a toothless pit bull, hardly less kinetic than the out-of-control! imitation rendered by Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey.
But off camera is another Regis: a warm, sometimes even fuzzy 58-year-old. (He called Joy, his wife of 22 years, twice during this interview.) Three decades of ”slugging through” (his words) have left him more humble than his TV persona lets on. Here’s what he let on to Entertainment Weekly:
1. That’s a funny name. Regis Philbin. Did you ever think of changing it?
It’s not a great show business name, but Robert Redford was taken.
2. You’ve interviewed Nixon, Reagan, Debbie Gibson. Who’s your favorite?
My favorite guest, if I had to name one, would be Barbara Walters. She has a hundred anecdotes about everybody she’s ever talked to, remembers everything. That’s my idea of a great guest.
3. What was the scariest time in your career?
In 1964 I’m doing a local show in San Diego. Then comes that big break-replacing Steve Allen on the syndicated Westinghouse late-night show. I get to Hollywood and find out I’m on a two-week tape delay! What could I possibly talk about that would have relevance two weeks from now? I have to be live, and be able to relate something that has happened in my real life. I don’t know how to use writers. I remember being in a hotel suite in San Francisco before the show premiered and staying up until dawn, literally in shock and scared to death. I psychologically was not ready for it. So I failed miserably.