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Michael Gelman pays tribute to Regis Philbin

Michael Gelman pays tribute to Regis Philbin

Legendary TV personality Regis Philbin, who died July 24 at 88, became a household name as co-host of the daytime talk show Live With Regis & Kathie Lee, which went into national syndication in 1988. There since the beginning — and still at the helm — is executive producer Michael Gelman, who audiences came to know when Philbin often addressed him, standing off camera, during the show’s signature Host Chat. Here, Gelman pays tribute to his longtime colleague and friend for EW.

Regis used to say that he and I had a great father/son relationship, but that I was the father. I couldn’t agree more. Even in my early 20s when I first started working with him, he was the mischievous pot-stirrer and I was the one trying to keep him out of trouble.

Regis embodied the old adage “what you see is what you get.” The genuinely warm/grumpy uncle you saw every morning is the same man I spent the day with even after the cameras stopped rolling. And boy, could he tell a story. There were nights on the town with him when literally nothing out of the ordinary happened, and yet the next morning he would weave a tale that was so hilarious I often wondered how we could have been at the same event.

His whole life and everyone in it were up for discussion during his signature Host Chat. Whether it was a medical procedure he experienced, the antics of his cat Ashley, detailed updates on the wins and losses of his beloved Notre Dame, or even a visit from his sister-in-law, who he lovingly called “The Winds of War,” we knew everything about Regis’ life. He was one of the first broadcasters to break the fourth wall to talk to the staff and crew on live TV — including, and especially, me. And if you were lucky enough to be mentioned during Host Chat, you immediately got your 15 minutes of fame. Not much was more exciting than hearing the words “Regis talked about you this morning.” Often imitated but never duplicated, Host Chat has become part of the lexicon of American entertainment.

But he didn’t chat alone. Many were lucky enough to sit beside him — Sarah Purcell, Mary Hart, Cindy Garvey, Ann Abernathy, Kathie Lee Gifford, and of course Kelly Ripa. His favorite fill-in co-host was always his wife Joy. He adored her. Their spicy husband-and-wife banter could be considered the first reality show on television. Talking about their children and then grandchildren gave the audience yet another peek into his life behind the cameras.

Regis used to say “I’m only one man.” Indeed he was. And they broke the mold when they made him. He was the son I never had and a bonus father all in one. I will miss him as a friend and I can only hope he and Dean Martin are together now singing “Pennies From Heaven” while Don Rickles heckles from the bleachers.

Live will honor Philbin’s TV legacy with an updated presentation of the Emmy-winning “Regis Farewell Celebration Special” (originally aired Nov. 18, 2011) on Friday, July 31. Check your local listings.

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