Crooners Tony Bennett and Regis Philbin/courtesy of ABC-Disney
In honor of Regis Philbin's last day on his morning show, I thought I'd retell a favorite anecdote of mine featuring the Reege.
First read the Q&A I did with him a few weeks before he performed at a local casino in 2009. Then read the footnote of what happened during the concert:
MINNEAPOLIS — It took me only 30 seconds to get under Regis Philbin's skin, which is exactly where you want to be. Philbin, 78, who has logged more TV hours than anyone in history, is at his best when he's frustrated, antsy, perplexed or ticked off. One suspects that's also when he's happiest.
The TV legend chatted (and yelled) by phone recently to talk about the new season of "Live With Regis&Kelly," his summer return to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and his cabaret show.
Q. I've got a bone to pick with you. I've been searching and searching and I can't find any record of you ever performing in Minnesota. What gives?
A. I was just thinking about that today. We've done the TV show there, but I've never been there to perform. I'm SORRY! I never got INVITED!
Q. You're already on the air, like, four hours a day. What do you get out of these kind of shows that's different?
A. Everybody asks me that. I get a change of scenery, a change of venue and it's nice to see the people who watch the show. A lot of people think I'm going to come out and have a cooking segment and so on. It's different. I only get to do about 15 nights a year (as a live performer), usually in the fall.
Q. Who's the greatest songwriter of all time?
A. Gee, I don't know. Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne. I guess it would be Berlin. What do you think?
Q. Yeah, Berlin would be up there. But what about somebody more, um, contemporary? Do you cover anyone a little more recent, like Bob Dylan?
A. "Calendar Girl," is that contemporary? Just KIDDING, Neal. I do songs people still hum and sing today. I don't know anyone who's walking around humming Dylan.
Q. I don't know about that, Reege. I hum Dylan.
A. Really? Hum me some Dylan.
Q. Our time is limited, Regis.
A. I'll give you a few extra minutes. C'mon. HUM ME SOME DYLAN! (I hum the first few bars of "Blowin' In The Wind.") That's it, Neal Justin? THAT'S what poeple are humming on the streets of MINNESOTA? You just made the show tomorrow! (I didn't.)
Q. Moving on: What's it like to have dinner with David Letterman?
A. I just had dinner with him once. I did something interesting the other night. I was on the show, and I told him that what he really needed was a friend, more than anyone I know, and I'll be that friend. The one you call late at night when you're tormented. If you want to cry, you can cry. I want us to be like those guys on "Boston Legal" who go out on the patio, smoke a cigar and talk about anything. We did something like that yesterday for a bit. We went up to the marquee where Paul McCartney performed ...
Q. McCartney, now that's contemporary. You do any Beatles?
A. Yes, McCartney's up there, OK? NO, I don't do any BEATLES! I do the great American songbook, OK?!! Geez. Anyways, I loved being out there with him at the dusk of evening. Really enjoyed it.
Q. Were you ticked off that the producers of "Slumdog Millionaire" didn't recognize you at the Oscars during their acceptance speech?
A. What? Oh, no. I do remember going to see that movie and getting all excited because I had never watched the show from the audience's viewpoint. I don't know if ("Millionaire") would have come back this summer in prime time if it wasn't for the movie.
Q. What's the secret of hosting a game show?
A. You've got to get involved with these people. These are tough economic times. People really want to win and I want them to win.
Q. You continue to look great. Give us one fitness tip that everyone should do every day.
A. Honest to God, I happen to live in a beautiful building with a wonderful gym, but it's a lot of hard work. I've done this all my life, lifting weights. I'm still a bad boy. I still love my ice cream and green papaya. I fall off the wagon now and then, but by and large, I'm STILL TRYING, Neal!
Q. Well, I'm looking forward to seeing the show.
A. Hey, thrill of my life hearing you hum Dylan.
Q. Listen, why not learn one Dylan song for the Hinckley show? I'm sure the orchestra will know a number.
A. I can't promise anything. I'll try, buddy. Footnote: Sure enough, the talk-show legend strayed from his Great American Songbook act at Grand Casino Hinckley to warble the chorus of "Blowin' in the Wind." After the packed show, I congratulated Reege on his brave effort to contemporize his act and also praised him for his version of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." "I'm TRYING! I'm TRYING!" he said in mock exasperation. To further exhibit his hipness, he recited James Brown's famous line: "I feel GOOD!" Nice work, Reege. Next time you come to our neck of the woods, take a stab at Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable." You'll feel even better.