“Astrology,” says the man who has spent more time in front of live television talk show audiences than anyone else on the planet, “isn’t for sissies.”
In his book, How I Got This Way, Regis Philbin, an inveterate story-teller and master of “spontaneous conversation,” describes a series of on-air meetings with the “remarkable” astrologer Sydney Omarr (his adjective).
Early in a broadcast career that spanned more than five decades, Philbin, who holds the Guinness World Record for most time spent in front of a television camera, was feeling incredibly blessed. With only a low-budget, live TV talk show in a secondary market (San Diego) to recommend him, he was asked to take over Steve Allen’s nationally syndicated TV talk show, which was filmed in Hollywood at the time.
The first guest he booked on The Regis Philbin Show was Omarr, whose syndicated horoscope column was a staple in newspapers from coast to coast. The astrologer was asked to predict how successful the new show would be.
It was October, 1964. Omarr showed up and solemnly delivered the bad news.
“Sydney fixed a haunted gaze on me and said there’s a fight going on right now behind the scenes as to what direction the show should go. He told me the show will fail. You won’t make it,” Philbin recounted.
An Earth Moving Revelation
In private after the show, Omarr told Philbin he was heading into the worst period of his life. “The earth will literally move under your feet,” he warned.
Philbin worried about the dire forecast but was pleasantly surprised when his show was renewed after 13 weeks. So he invited Omarr back on the program to see if he was ready to change his mind about anything.
The astrologer was even more insistent. He told his host the show would be going off the air within 48 hours.
The end actually arrived 36 hours later when Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, the show’s sponsor, lowered the boom.
The next few years for Philbin were as personally and professionally challenging as the astrologer had predicted they would be. Even the part about the earth moving under his feet.
Philbin owned a house on a hillside overlooking Universal City. At one point in 1968, it rained heavily for two straight weeks. On one of those rainy days half of his backyard slid into the canyon.
“City officials ordered the house evacuated. When I couldn’t pay the bills to shore up the property, I lost the house entirely,” he said.
Philbin had managed to land on his professional feet with a three-year stint as sidekick to Joey Bishop on the Joey Bishop Show. When this show was winding down after a disappointingly short run in 1969, he invited Omarr back to predict how things would go forward career-wise for Bishop and himself.
The outlook for Bishop was not especially up-beat. But the astrologer predicted Philbin was destined to become “a household name in America” and would have “great success.”
When pressed for a timetable, Omarr said it wasn’t going to happen right away. It would take another 20 years.
In his book, Philbin points out that Omarr made this prediction in December 1969. In September of 1988, his New York morning talk show, Live with Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, was syndicated nationally and “we were well on our way to making that prediction come true,” he said.
Show Host Interviewed by ANS
In an interview with the Astrology News Service (ANS), Philbin offered these insights:
ANS: What do you really think about astrology?
Regis: I was always fascinated by the subject for many years.
ANS: Did Omarr’s gloomy forecast disturb you?
Regis: It sent a chill down my spine. I didn’t believe it was going to be that bad, but it was.
ANS: What was the reaction of your show sponsors?
Regis: The sponsors and most of the people around me didn’t believe in astrology in the first place.
ANS: Did you later learn that the show was already on life support when Omarr made the forecast?
Regis: Sydney was the first guest we had. His first forecast was an eye-raiser but when we got renewed for another 13 weeks I asked him to come back and that’s when he became more definite. He said the death notice was 48 hours away. It came 36 hours later.
ANS: According to a report in the N.Y. Times, you thought bringing the astrologer onto the show would be a “good gag.” Did you later change your mind about this?
Regis: I thought it was a daring and different way to start a new TV show.
ANS: Did you ask Omarr for advice of a personal nature?
Regis: Naturally I did and he repeated what he told me on the air. That like all good or bad things eventually it would come to an end.
ANS: Based on your first-hand experience, what would you say to someone who seriously asks for your opinion on whether astrologers might be on to something?
Regis: I was fortunate in those days to have Sydney Omarr join me. It makes me wish all astrologers could be as accurate.
ANS: What does the future hold for Regis Philbin?
Regis: Unfortunately Sydney is not around to answer that.
In his book, each chapter remembers a different celebrity guest and closes with a “What I Took Away from it All” summary of the experience. He closed the chapter devoted to his interviews with Omarr in this way:
“Astrology isn’t for sissies. Those stars do seem to know things we don’t – and maybe never should.
“Great things can happen much later than you might have hoped. But even then, great things are still great – and always worth appreciating – so don’t give up.”
Editor’s Note: After 28-plus years, Regis has moved on from his morning show. But at age 80 he is not retiring, his agent Ken DiCamillo insists. He’s still actively doing concerts, television appearances, book signings, lectures, and the like.