When it comes to listing the best jobs in America, several positions immediately spring to mind: taste-tester at Ben & Jerry's. Wind machine operator for Beyonce. Professional surfer. Rock star. Hand model. Lord and supreme ruler of Disneyland "
But let's not overlook what might have been the greatest job of them all — being Regis Philbin.
Think about it: The 80-year-old Philbin, who on Friday will surrender his post on the popular morning talk show, "Live! With Regis and Kelly," pretty much has had it made.
For nearly three decades, he was allowed to cozy up on a daily basis to an attractive — and much younger — woman (first Kathie Lee Gifford, then Kelly Ripa) without threat of a restraining order. Moreover, he was paid tons of money for rubbing elbows with celebrities, haphazardly chatting about the day's events, repeatedly referring to himself in the third person and spewing crazy rants about whatever happened to be bugging him at the time. And then he called it a day.
It just doesn't get much better than that.
Even more astounding: Reege enjoyed these awesome occupational privileges, despite not possessing any glaringly obvious talent and/ or sense of cool. Now, tell me, why would you ever leave that gig?
Philbin couldn't touch souls or inspire people the way Oprah did. He didn't have the razor-sharp wit of a Johnny Carson, or the offbeat sensibility of his good buddy David Letterman. One scornful critic, many years ago, wrote that he had all the personality "of a grapefruit."
Still, Philbin managed to stick around in a showbiz genre where careers expire faster than a Kardashian marriage. He started working in TV in the early 1960s and has been doing a live morning show since 1983 — a production that became nationally syndicated in 1988. He survived Gifford, who left in 2000, and he adjusted nicely to Ripa's incessant perkiness. Oh, and in his spare time, he helped turn "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" into a prime-time powerhouse.
Philbin endured because he was able to make the difficult look easy. That was his talent. Unlike so many others who failed to master the art of talk-show host, he was a likable, old-school, down-to-earth guy who kept things real and had the ability to connect with his viewers.
"Maybe I don't sing or dance or tell jokes very well," he told a reporter recently. "But I know how to sit here and talk to the audience."
Indeed. For many of us who grew up with Reege, watching him was like spending time with your cranky but lovable uncle — especially in recent years. Generation-gap issues were evident when he playfully squabbled with Ripa. We'd shake our heads in sympathy as he groused about the football woes of his beloved Notre Dame. And we couldn't help but snicker as he expressed utter bafflement over any form of new technology.
We also found endless amusement in the way he clearly couldn't relate to (or sometimes even know) most celebrities under the age of 60. If you were a young movie star with a film to pitch, you took your chances with Reege, who often ignored what guests had to say and clumsily bolted off on his own wild tangents. At least those tangents often proved to be more entertaining than the formulaic pap that celebs usually spout.
But now Philbin is giving up his cushy seat on "Live!" to embrace other late-life adventures. He has a book to peddle, and he's even been approached about doing a reality show (No, Reege, no!). After a week of special guests and tributes, he'll bid farewell Friday in a send-off that promises to be filled with warm memories and some fun surprises.
So who will take his place? A successor has yet to be named, but producers plan to rely on a series of guest hosts for a while, beginning with Jerry Seinfeld next week.
And you can bet that plenty of other people are lobbying behind the scenes to get a shot to sit in for a few days, or perhaps stick around on a permanent basis. They clearly know, after all, that it's one of the best jobs in all the land.