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Regis Philbin Returns to Live with Regis and Kelly

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Six weeks after undergoing heart surgery, Regis Philbin returned to Live with Regis and Kelly on Thursday morning – bringing along his medical team and fellow cardiac patient (and buddy) David Letterman.

“What an occasion this has been,” Philbin, 75, said of the support he has received – from people stopping him in the street to the standing ovation from the studio audience to “my picture in the paper,” he joked, picking up the New York Daily News, which had a front-page photo of Rosie O’Donnell.

Looking none the worse for wear, Philbin said of his ordeal, “I lost eight pounds, but I aged about 12 [years].” Kelly Ripa disagreed, and asked if he’d had a facelift. “I did not have a facelift,” he replied, “[but] that whole thing was a tough one.”

Recalling that an elderly woman in the audience who’d survived the same operation had warned him “it was hell,” Philbin said of his March 14 procedure: “I was unprepared for it. I didn’t know what a bypass was until I went through it.” After the woman’s words, he said, “I should have turned around and run for my life right there.”

He had warm words for Ripa and the way she’d carried the show in his absence. (Philbin had phoned in several times during his recovery.) “Let me tell you: When you’re not with me, you shine,” he said, prompting Ripa to respond, “Let me tell you: For six weeks, I feel like my light had dimmed.”

Ripa also said, “Every guest on the show asked about you, especially Halle Berry.” “She sent me a nice bathrobe,” said Philbin, adding quizzically that Ringo Starr had sent him “a whole basket of green apples.” “They’re good for your heart,” explained Ripa.

Letterman, who welcomed Philbin as his first Late Show guest after Letterman’s own bypass operation in 2000, was Philbin’s first guest on Thursday. (The two men compared scars.) Letterman’s advice? “Look, Regis, don’t be a hero. If you need to lie down …”