Regis Philbin, the famed gameshow/talk show host, died on Friday of natural causes at 88 years old. This is a guy who's been on TV since the 1960s and has been crushing it every step of the way. Regis was a fixture of television, so much so, in fact, that Guinness World Records said he was the most-watched person in Television history. His over 17,000 hours of airtime is equivalent to about two full years on our screens, most of that with him just being Regis. Here's one such clip.
Usually, Guinness World Records are worth about as much as the shit you're taking while reading about them, but this one feels a little bit different. Regis Philbin's television ubiquity made him a unifying force across generations and that loss feels especially pronounced now, during a time where the lines between generations seem so stark that they might as well be scratched into the paper.
I can remember watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with my grandparents and it's an amazing thing to consider that the same show could keep a set of septuagenarians as transfixed to the screen as it could a teenager.
What other TV show can do that? What other thing can do that? Sports maybe? Medical Marijuana? That program the Riddler plays in Batman Forever?
Okay, so there are a few examples, but I'd argue the Riddler would have been better off playing Regis and Kathie Lee, so I think my point remains. We might now live in an era of Instagram fame and YouTube stardom, but the most surefire way to signal iconography is to appear on television, and no one has appeared on TV more than Regis Philbin.
A 2019 study by Zenith found that people would spend an average of 170.6 minutes per day online, while they'll spend 170.3 minutes each day in front of the TV. So, yes, online content might juuuuust be winning out now, but when you consider that so much of the online content is memes and so many of those memes are of The Office and Game Of Thrones, then I think it's fair to say that TV is still king of cultural significance.
Regis on TV felt like the hum of an air conditioner, so constant a presence that you don't even think about it until it's turned off and suddenly the effect is jarring. And then you're like, "What the dick? Have we been running the A/C for five straight days? Do you guys realize how much that's going to cost us in utilities?"
But my dysfunctional roommate dynamics aside, Regis Philbin's death is unique in how many people will recognize his passing. A man has died, yes, but so too has a piece of our culture, and for both, we are in mourning.
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Top Image: NBC/NBC NewsWire