Regis Philbin returns after heart surgery

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Talk show host Regis Philbin, recognized in the Guinness World Records as America’s most on-camera TV personality, returned to the airwaves on Thursday six weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery.

Host Regis Philbin speaks at the panel for the NBC television show "America's Got Talent" during the "Television Critics Association" summer 2006 media tour in Pasadena, California, in this July 21, 2006 file photo. Philbin returned to the airwaves on Thursday six weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Philbin, 75, was welcomed back to his weekday morning program, “Live with Regis and Kelly,” with a standing ovation from his studio audience and a visit by his friend and fellow heart patient, late-night comedian David Letterman.

“What an occasion this has been,” Philbin, looking fit and relaxed, said as he took the stage with co-host Kelly Ripa. “Finally back after six weeks. ... Six weeks and one day.”

He added that he had lost 8 pounds since undergoing the triple bypass procedure, and found his recuperation more difficult than he had expected. “The rewards are great at the end of it. They add years to your life, they say. But in the meantime, it’s a tough one,” he said.

Letterman, for whom Philbin guest-hosted when the CBS “Late Show” star underwent similar surgery seven years ago, told Philbin he appeared so healthy “it looks like you’re on one of those cruises.”

Told by Ripa that Philbin worried he was “not healing as quickly as you did,” Letterman joked, “Well, in my case you’re dealing with a superhuman being.”

Letterman also warned, tongue-in-cheek, that surgeons operating on celebrities “invite the rest of the staff to come in and look at you naked.”

Letterman was returning the favor paid him when Philbin appeared as the first guest for Letterman’s return to TV following his own quadruple bypass operation in 2000.

Joining Letterman on the show on Thursday were the two doctors who operated on both Philbin and Letterman -- Drs. Wayne Isom and Karl Krieger -- who said the surgery had left the two entertainers with the hearts of 19- or 20-year-olds.

Philbin, who got his first big break as Joey Bishop’s sidekick on “The Joey Bishop Show” in the early 1960s, has been a national daytime TV fixture since 1989, when he began co-hosting “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.”

That show became “Live with Regis and Kelly” after Ripa took Kathie Lee Gifford’s place as his on-air partner in 2001.

Philbin also hosted the ABC smash hit “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which and helped usher in a new wave of game shows and reality series to American TV.

According to the Guinness World Records, Philbin has logged more time on camera than any other U.S. television personality, with more than 15,660 hours as of the fall of 2006.