In the end, it wasn't just Regis and Kelly, or Regis and Kathie Lee ... it felt more like Regis and everybody. After some 16,000 hours in front of a television camera, Regis Philbin signed off Live! with Regis and Kelly Friday morning.
Ending a 28-year run, the "Farewell Special" began oddly with a black-and-white camera following him on his final walk to the studio. It had a little of a Dead Man Walking feel to it. But once he got to the stage, he walked out to a star-studded audience of family and friends. Among them: Diane Sawyer, Donald Trump, Tony Danza and Kathie Lee Gifford (with whom he co-hosted Live! for 15 years), as well as Philbin's wife, Joy, and his daughters.
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A hilarious montage focused on how many people have imitated him over the years, notably Dana Carvey, who captured Philbin's fulminating crescendo so well: "Anyway, are you ready for this? ... it's OUT. OF. CONTROL."
Then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out and proposed several possible new jobs for Philbin, including driving a cab, playing for the Yankees, strumming a guitar as the next Naked Cowboy in Times Square, or running to become the next mayor. After kibitzing, Bloomberg presented Philbin with the key to the city.
The final program also featured reminiscences from his family, and a fun highlight of the marching band from his alma mater — Notre Dame — spelling out his name in tribute.
A tearful Kelly Ripa, not wanting to forget anything, wrote down some of what she wanted to say, invoking the "43 steps" they always walked from her dressing room to the stage before each show.
And in a riff on the most famous song from the Broadway musical Rent, the show's cast sang "955,600 Minutes" — the amount of time he's spent on television.
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On the eve of his departure, the bon mots for his bon voyage also were uttered in prime time and late night with Regis Philbin: The Morning Maestro, a special edition of 20/20 anchored and reported by Katie Couric, and an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman.
David Letterman, who dropped by his morning show earlier in the week, told Philbin — who first came to national prominence as Joey Bishop's sidekick in late 1960s on Bishop's late-night ABC talk show — that he ranked in a pantheon of broadcasters that may only include Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Oprah Winfrey.
In his enduring career, the 80-year-old, Bronx-born broadcaster achieved prime-time success in 1999 when he began hosting the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And just earlier this year, he and Ripa won the Daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Talk Show Host.
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Starting Monday, Ripa will have a parade of interim co-hosts (starting with Jerry Seinfeld). Philbin said earlier this week he'll probably be watching the first show without him in his hotel room in Miami, where he'll be on a book tour for his memoir How I Got This Way.
Friday morning's show ended with Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger thanking Philbin and unveiling a plaque dedicated to him at the entrance to ABC's New York headquarters — and Philbin's final words.
And he was a pro to the very end. He kept it together — he didn't break down, talking about how the show was the "last chance I had in this business, to make it here in New York, and I came back a little bit late in my life to make it all work. I guess it was fate that it would happen this way, and it did."
As for the show's long success, he said people tell him they watch it "because it makes them feel better. And it can't get better than that."
He said he'll never be able to top that.