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My Love Affair With Regis Philbin

Regis

I have dreamed about Regis Philbin, more times than I can count, for the better part of the last 25 years. Not in a loving or romantic way, so let’s get that right out of the way. Because, when I would tell people that – I stopped confessing for obvious reasons – I dreamed about Regis Philbin, they would either say, “Are you in love with him?” Or, look at me oddly like I was smoking dope.

And yes, I dreamed once that Regis and I were smoking a doobie on a New York City street. We have also played tennis, and golf. We were in South Beach partying more than once. He was my boss. I was a co-host on his show. The dreams have been all too common, just me and Regis, and they remain fresh in my mind. None of the dreams were weird – well, I guess that’s subjective. But what I mean to say is that the dreams were always fun and memorable. Just like Regis.

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I reminded people of Regis. We’re both a bit outlandish, always have something that gets in our way, makes us mad or perturbed, and we always have a good story – about everything. In one of my jobs, one of my superiors would not start conference calls until I told a story. He’d name a subject, and I would riff, and everyone would laugh. Just like Regis.

And Regis and I always found a way to mess things up, particularly for our better halves. I’ll never forget Regis telling a story one morning about how he pushed and cajoled his wife Joy to get out the door on time, for a long drive to Martha Stewart’s house for dinner. When they got to the front gate, they rang the buzzer, and Martha answered. Regis announced that he and Joy were there and on time. Martha shot back, “Regis, the dinner is tomorrow night.” Obviously, Joy was less than thrilled at Regis. Something similar happened to me, just like Regis.

Some years ago, a woman that worked on my media relations team at Sears and Kmart was getting married over a Memorial Day weekend. So I hurried my partner out the door on Saturday to take a 90-minute train ride to Long Island to make the wedding on time.

It was over 90 degrees that day, and we were running late once we got off the train. I made Justin trudge down an interstate under the sweltering sun, in a suit, so that we would not be any later than we already were. Upon arrival, I decided we should enter the Country Club, where the reception was, through the back entrance, so we could make a discreet late entrance. 

Confused and relieved at the same time, we ended up being the first ones there. We went to the bar, I ordered a drink, and was told the reception didn’t start for another hour. “Impossible,” I argued. “Alison said it started at 5, and we’re already late. Where is everybody?” “Alison?” the bartender said. “Her wedding is tomorrow.” Wrong day. Justin was furious. Just like Regis.

You couldn’t help to like Regis. He had an authenticity that was unparalleled and honest. What you saw is what you got, and what you got was Regis Philbin, all his mistakes, misadventures, and mishaps. There was no mystery. He talked to you every morning as if he was chatting with his friends, because we were, even if we never met him. 

I met him very briefly, only once, but the moment is indelible. The man I dreamed about standing before me. I wanted to tell him about all the dreams, but I thought he’d have me whisked away by security. And of course, that would be a story I could tell everyone, that Regis Philbin called security on me. Thinking back, I should have told him.

I have spent 30 years working in public relations, with the opportunities to meet scores of celebrities and high-profile people. I once had a drink with Jimmy Stewart and Burt Lancaster, and of course there’s a lot more to the story than that. Just like Regis, I found a way to make that moment unmistakable by making the mistake of doing an impression of Jimmy Stewart for him. “That sucked,” Burt Lancaster growled. And it did really suck, and I made an ass of myself.

The first impression you get from meeting or working with celebrities is generally how they turn out to be. Some can be complete asses. I never got a chance to work with Regis, but of course, I dreamed once that I was co-hosting the show with him. It was so real. And so was he. I remember he was cracking jokes, and I woke up with a huge smile on my face.

That’s what he did. He woke you up every morning, providing you with grins galore. He was the master storyteller, revelling us each morning with where he’d been the night before, who he’d seen, how he annoyed Joy, who he had dinner with, and inevitably how he screwed up somewhere along the way. And we’d laugh. And we’d relate.

When you see television personalities all made-up for the bright lights, or the red carpet or in fancy restaurants, you envision them living perfect lives. The gilded glow and glide, seemingly immune to any malfunctions. Sure, there’s moments for some that are all too messed up and that the paparazzi capture, but that’s the point. It happens and you wonder, “Wow, how could they trip like that in front of all the cameras?”

Regis didn’t need cameras to trip in front of. He was a trip because he was tripping all the time, and every time he forgot his keys, or took a wrong turn with Joy, or arrived too early for a dinner date with Martha Stewart, we heard about it the next day, and we laughed. Because, we too, probably locked the keys in the car, left a cup of coffee on the roof of our car as we drove away, or realized we forgot to put on a tie when we got to the office. That all seems so normal. Things Regis would do too. Only he could tell you about it and make it funny.

I hope that my dreams about him don’t stop because he’s gone. With all that’s going on in the world right now, it would be so meaningful to hear how Regis unquietly quarantined, or forgot to put on his mask, or screwed up the social distance thing. 

And I hope tonight, that when I go to sleep, I have a dream that Regis and I are laughing while smoking a joint, or having a beer in a New York City bar. If that happens, I’m going to tell everyone I know, and I’ll make sure I do it in a comical way, and not be embarrassed about it. Just like Regis.

John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.

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