I was very saddened to hear this week of the passing of someone I’d classify as true show business legend: Regis Philbin. I was never an avid watcher of any of his shows (my schedule didn’t really jive with the original airings), but any time I would catch him with Kathie Lee or Kelly Ripa, I always found myself laughing. To this day, anytime Mrs. Deal is making something with cilantro, I drive her crazy by reciting his appearance on The Simpsons verbatim:
I dunno – the dude just seemed like a combination of a total ham and a gentleman, something akin to a more wholesome version of my all time favorite wrestling personality, Bobby Heenan.
No wonder I liked the guy.
Another feather in his cap is that he appeared to love professional wrestling. In the late 80’s, it seemed he had someone from the WWF on nearly every week. Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart and countless others would put in an appearance when he was on the air. And then of course there was the time that “Ravishing” Rick Rude showed up and things went totally off the rails.
Which, of course, is why we are here today.
It started off like any other episode, with the hosts trowing to a video package showing who would be on the show that day. Rude mugs for the camera as only he could, a total sleazy scumbag heel throwing a faux kiss to the viewers at home as Kathie Lee notes “he may show us what he keeps hidden under that robe.”
Yeah, if you knew sister, you probably woulda hit the bricks.
This would be the afternoon before SummerSlam 89, so this was actually a GREAT cross-promotional bit. Yes, WWF PPVs used to take place on Monday nights. Don’t ask me why, I have zero idea.
Regis gives an enthusiastic rundown of the card, explaining to everyone that their guest will be taking on the Ultimate Warrior with the Intercontinental championship up for grabs. He then talks about how when Rude wrestles his matches, after he wins he scans the crowd and his manager The Brain asks if any lucky lady would like a rude awakening.
At this point, Regis enthusiastically explains just what that is: he gives some rando in the crowd a big ol’ smoocharoo. While Reege gets more and more excited at the absurdity of such an event, Kathie Lee looks on in with an expression I can only call abject terror.
Rude comes out and politely shakes Regis’ hand, then gives Kathie the most non-Rick Rude kiss ever on the back of her hand. He gazes longingly at her, not letting go of her hand until she utters: “um, hey, nice belt.”
Rude looks her up and down and creeps “Nice everything.”
Undeterred, Regis glows “He’s looking you over! You know how lucky you are that he kissed your hand??”
Kathie, clearly unimpressed: “Really.”
Regis just plows through the utter uncomfortableness, telling us “The Ultimate Warrior has a good physique, but Rick Rude has the best body in all of wrestling. He’s got tons of sex appeal, Kathie!”
Kathie tries to play along, asking a very innocuous question of “how tall are you Rick?”
Rude goes total creep show at this point, explaining he’s six-foot-four…and wants to know how tall Kathie is. Kathie, sounding like she wants to be anywhere else, explains that she’s short. “I have stumps for legs!”
“Those don’t look like any stumps I’ve ever seen!” says Rude as he looks her over like a meat platter.
At this point, Regis goes into total troll mode, exclaiming “Hey, Frank (Gifford, her husband) is out of town, isn’t he!!!!”
Rude then explains that when he was young, his mother told him that love is something to be cherished and spread. The Rude Awakening, he tells us, is how he spreads love throughout the world.
We then go to an amazing clip of Bobby talking to some girl with gigantic hair who is about to get the Rude Awakening. I say amazing in 2020 terms – in 1989, this happened weekly and I just kinda tuned these out. But today?
Even BETTER, we get REGIS EXPLAINING WHAT IS HAPPENING TO KATHIE LEE. “See, he brings her into the ring!” he notes. “He looks her over! He’s not just gonna kiss anybody! Now look at him! She’s melting! She’s going unconscious!”
We then go back to the studio, and Rude now has thrown all pretense out the window, licking his chops as he eyeballs Kathie Lee.
LITERALLY LICKING HIS CHOPS!
Regis notes that Rick may give someone in the studio the Rude Awakening, noting, “It might even be you, Kathie!”
At this point, Kathie looks right at the camera and says, and I quote, “I promise it won’t be me. I promise that to my sweetheart down in New Orleans (broadcasting Monday Night Football), it will not be me.”
Heenan comes out next, yelling at people backstage about how “Joanne”, who works behind the scenes on the show, isn’t going to be the one chosen to get the Rude Awakening. Regis asks if they’ve ever failed at giving a girl the kiss, and Heenan explains he has a staff and they pick out 30-45 different women who may be worthy of the kiss. At this point, he also goes off on Gifford, asking “Hey, can we get a cold towel out here for Kathie Lee?”
Rude notes the event is sold out, but he can probably get her in as his “special guest.” Kathie retorts the only way she can:
“But it’s Monday Night Football!”
Heenan says they have selected a woman from the audience. “Not you pal, put your hand down!” The Brain chastises one of the only guys in the crowd.
Even better is the woman at the bottom left! Who are you roll your eyes at the Ravishing One, lady?
So Rude devours this poor girl like he’s at the Golden Corral as Regis zooms in to survey the action. There’s only one guy on the planet that could have pulled that off without looking like a total perv, and that’s Regis Philbin.
He’s also the only guy who could get away with this:
I’ve watched that thing for five minutes straight and I legit can’t stop laughing. He may have thrown his hip out on that move.
Finally, it’s time for Rude to open his robe and show off his special surprise, telling us, and I quote, “This one is for the Giffer!!!” He then unveils…
…Kathie Lee! To say she is horrified is an understatement.
But watch closely and you can see Regis absolutely going for the throat, pointing as if to say, “Hey Kathie Lee, you may have missed it, but that’s YOUR FACE ON HIS CROTCH!”
Kathie Lee literally runs for the hills (or the steps to the second story of their ‘home’ I guess), as Rude turns around and presents his backside. Heenan is howling at this point, telling the world “Take a look at good ol’ Rear End Regis!” Philbin of course plays along, kicking at Rude as he’s laughing all the way.
Not willing to look like he failed in a conquest of the lady folk variety, Rude decides he’s going to go up after Kathie, causing her to run down the stairs…
….and LEAP OVER THE COUCH TO ESCAPE.
Ha ha ha, all funny, right? Great script you’re thinking.
Apparently, she had no idea what was going to happen! From her book, she wrote about this skit in detail:
“Then there was the “animal” known as Ravishing Rick Rude. Now, I have a problem with Reege’s wrestling thing. We aren’t exactly McNeil-Lehrer out there, but I think the wrestlers’ shtick lowers the quality of the show a notch or two. Some of them are pretty sleazy. Rick Rude was about as low as the get, right down there with the Bushwhackers. If there was a gold championship belt for the most horrible disgusting-smelling people, the Bushwhackers would have been wearing it the day they came on. They tried to hold me and kiss me. First of all, I’m sorry, but don’t touch me, and second of all, I don’t kiss people I don’t want to kiss. And Cody (her then-infant son) was there with me that day. They chased me all over the set and I ran off, locked myself in my dressing room-nursery with Cody, and refused to come out. I was afraid they’d come right in there after me to bushwhack Cody.
“But the absolute low point was a year or so before when Ravishing Rick Rude came out, bragging about his “Rude Awakening” at wrestling arenas. Young women are hand-picked to go into the ring with him, where this muscle-bound baboon embraces and kisses them until they just pretend to faint dead away with ardor as he stands over his latest conquest. It’s a pathetic spectacle, so of course Gelman booked him.
“This guy comes out in his “Simply Ravishing” sequined robe, kisses my hand ever so gently,and sits there giving me the eye like he’d been behind bars for a decade. Nonstop. It’s not like we ask them tough questions – like, “Duhh, howdja get dose muscles?” We let them pretty much do their thing – which, cartoonish and entertaining as it is to some people, has its place in the world. But not this kind of stuff. I was so flustered I crossed my legs and one shoe dropped off my foot.
“Gracious host that I am, I humored him (“Rick, you’re sweet talking me”) while Reege sucked up to him by mooning over his title belt. “This guy,” he said, “is the best built of all the wrestlers. He’s got a tremendous physique and great sex appeal.”
With an ego to match. He asked me how tall I was and I told him “really short, I got stumps for legs.” He leered at me and said, “Those don’t look like no stubs I’ve ever seen before.”
“Reege egged him on. “Honest to God, I sense something going on here! Frank is out of town, isn’t he?” Yeah, I said. Rick’s manager is now on. “This guy is looking her over and making her very nervous,” Reege tells him. “The woman is coming unglued.” “Kathie Lee needs a Rude Awakening,” the manager says. “Kathie Lee,” I say, “has had a few rude awakenings.” “Not this rude, not this rude.” “Over the airways, ” Rick says, staring at my body, “I could see that Kathie Lee was the most beautiful woman on television. Now, as I draw closer and closer, I just can’t believe it.”
“Rick gave a woman in the audience an “awakening” to stripper music and then dropped his robe in front of me. I was standing off now to the side. I didn’t believe what I saw. This was absolutely unscripted.
“On his clingy nothing-left-to -the-imagination Lycra tights, he had painted my face over his crotch. He stood there, hands behind his head, thrusting and flexing, half naked. It was so gross I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I put my hands over my face and ran up the stairs at the rear of the set.
“Meanwhile, he turned his butt to the camera and, of course, there was Reege’s face painted on his, Rick’s, quivering, gyrating glutes. Talk about “back end participation!” This got my vote for the worst breach of taste in the history of the show. Then Rick ran up the stairs after me and I came down, skipped over the couches and dashed off the set, amazed that I didn’t wipe out and hurt myself.”
As if all that weren’t enough, apparently her husband Frank was allegedly livid at what happened, to the point he wanted to, and I am not making this up, FIGHT RICK RUDE. I should point out that Frank Gifford was nearly SEVENTY YEARS OLD at this point. I’ve not been in a ton of fights in my day so I don’t have a wealth of knowledge on the subject, but that seems like a pretty terrible idea.
Despite Kathie Lee’s objections, Regis would continue have more wrestlers on his shows, ranging from Diesel to Undertaker to everyone in between. Want to see a very young Lita learning how to cook? Regis was your man.
Thanks for all the memories, Reege – you will be missed!