Remembering Regis Philbin in Morristown

'MY MOM'S NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS!' said C.J. Benjamin when Regis Philbin walked into SmartWorld Coffee. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'MY MOM'S NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS!' said C.J. Benjamin when Regis Philbin walked into SmartWorld Coffee. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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It was one of those Hey, he looks familiar! moments.

Regis Philbin was whiter-haired and more slightly built than I remembered him from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Live! with Regis and Kelly. But that staccato Bronx accent was unmistakable.

HOW'S THE COFFEE? 'Excellent!' says Regis Philbin, at SmartWorld Coffee during his first visit to Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
HOW’S THE COFFEE? ‘Excellent!’ says Regis Philbin, at SmartWorld Coffee during his first visit to Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Philbin had discovered Morristown’s SmartWorld Coffee one afternoon in September 2016, ahead of his gig emceeing the Rickles and Regis Laughfest at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.

“My mom’s not going to believe this!” exclaimed barista C.J. Benjamin as she posed for a photo with the TV legend, holder of the Guinness World Record for Most Hours on Camera during a career spanning six decades.

Philbin died over the weekend. He was 88.  His family did not disclose the cause of death.

Regis Philbin autographs a receipt at SmartWorld Coffee prior to his Don Rickles show at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Regis Philbin autographs a receipt at SmartWorld Coffee prior to his Don Rickles show at MPAC. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

At SmartWorld, Philbin showed plenty of pep, autographing a customer’s receipt and politely fielding hasty questions from this surprised reporter, who had been been pecking out an obituary that day over an iced tea.

Philbin insisted his longtime pal, comedian Don “The Merchant of Venom” Rickles, was a cuddly teddy bear, not a porcupine, and to prove it he offered tickets to their show that evening.

For that night, at least, he was right. The old TV clips were brutally hilarious. But Rickles, who once took (verbal) shots at mobster Joey Gallo, was so warm you could have toasted marshmallows on him. The comic died about six months later, at age 90.

Bassist Martin Pizzarelli, left, with his dad, jazz guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, at Don Rickles/Regis Philbin show in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bassist Martin Pizzarelli, left, with his dad, jazz guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, at 2016 Don Rickles/Regis Philbin show in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Seated near me at MPAC for Rickles & Regis was the great jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, from the early Tonight Show band.

We lost him this spring to COVID-19. He was 94.

And now, Regis Philbin.

No doubt, he’s wisecracking about the incessant harps (“Fellas, can you turn it down? I’m trying to sleep up here!“) and asking his new audience: Who wants to be a millionaire? 

R.I.P., Regis.

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