This is no April Fool's joke: Regis and Kathie Lee were back together again Monday night.
I know you'd like to hear that in her almost three years away from Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford had gone to seed. That's right: divorce, alcoholism, arrest, rehab, the whole shebang. Or that things were so bad she'd gone to work as a seamstress in one of her old sweatshops.
Well, sorry, but the reality is quite the opposite.
Last night Kathie Lee and husband Frank Gifford made a rare appearance at a Friars Toast for famed songwriter and performer Neil Sedaka.
I say "toast," not "roast." The latter is something else indeed. This was a tribute, which was preceded by a dinner at the Friars' medieval-style clubhouse on East 55th St. in New York and followed by an evening of song and comedy at the auditorium in the Lighthouse for the Blind four blocks away.
Kathie Lee, I am happy to tell you, has never looked better. At 51, she is — and I say this not lightly — hot. She's had no plastic surgery and she's proud of it. She certainly doesn't need it. She wore a clingy leopard-print dress that forced emcee Joy Behar to quip, "Kathie Lee, The Lion King called and they need their costume back."
The Giffords, who held hands a lot and whispered in each other's ears during the show, laughed.
Again, sad to say for all the ill-wishers, they are happy as clams. There has been sorrow, however. In November, Kathie Lee lost her dad to a vicious form of dementia.
"We knew he had it when I left the show, which was one reason I left," she told me. "He was already several years into it when I left. But we wanted to take care of him as a family."
Yes: I asked about the kids. Cody is thirteen (!) and playing baseball, which confounds Frank, the football legend.
"He's a Yankee fan," Gifford confided somewhat shakily.
Even though Kathie Lee is home in the morning now, Frank is still better at getting the kids off to school.
"He's much better at it than I am," she said, making it clear she was not pouring pancake batter at six a.m.
Of course, I went to the Friars toast hoping for a much-alluded-to Regis and Kathie Lee reunion. They have not been together in public in three years. The tabloids always painted their relationship as strained. I thought they'd make a good undercard for the night: Just sit back and watch 'em go at each other.
I waited, but this did not materialize. At the Friars dinner, the Philbins and the Giffords sat together and reminisced. In the auditorium they fell back into their old professional ways as if nothing had changed. Simon and Garfunkel should take lessons from these two.
Philbin did a charming rendition of Sedaka's old hit "Calendar Girl" with the honoree. Then he introduced Kathie Lee. There was a hush over the audience. And then ... nothing!
Kathie Lee came out and sang Sedaka's "The Hungry Years" in a voice considerably richer than the one she had back in the day. It's a good song for her, very emotional.
But something happened. Just past the bridge as she was heading home, so to speak, she lost her way. Climbing to a crescendo, she hit the wrong note, and stumbled. A lesser singer would have covered and gone on, but not Kathie Lee.
"Wait!" she said to the frightened accompanist. "We had the most gorgeous modulation for you, Neil. Let's go back."
And with that, Kathie Lee, not even breaking a sweat, started at the point right before things went wrong. She got her note, made her dramatic moment, and took a semi-standing ovation. That's what 15 years of live morning television will do for you.
What's next for Kathie Lee?
"I'm writing and producing musicals," she said. "One is already done. There'll be an announcement soon."
Linkin Park, a hard-rock band I would personally rather not hear much from, looks like a winner. Their new album, Meteora, on forlorn Warner Bros. records, is headed toward sales of between 800,000 and 1 million this week.
Linkin Park, in taking the No. 1 slot, has easily bested Canadian songbird Celine Dion. Her new album, One Heart, on Sony/Epic, probably sold 350,000 copies last week and finished second.
Celine's CD is the first new release in Sony's new fiscal year, following the layoff of 1,000 employees and the installation of a new management team. One of the fired was longtime Epic publicist Vivian Piazza, a favorite among the press. I'm told another Epic publicist, Michelle Schweitzer, also a favorite, narrowly escaped the guillotine.
Dion's last album, released exactly a year ago, sold 530,000 copies in its initial chart week. Conclusion: the turmoil at Sony hasn't done her much good. And, like possibly Madonna, she's aged out of the record buying generation.
Maybe that's why her husband/manager, Rene Angelil, has her working like a plow horse in Las Vegas. Their goal now is to make Siegfried and Roy disappear. Rock on, Celine! Pound that chest!
This was the second night in less than a week that I've had the pleasure of hearing Joy Behar crack wise in front of a live audience. You'd never know from The View what she's capable of; she's terrifyingly funny. ("Joan Collins is so old her vibrator is a wind-up.")
She can also be serious, and seriously anti-President Bush. ("I like my president to be at least as smart as my doorman.")
Otherwise, the Sedaka toast was a little like a live version of the old Joe Franklin Show, with a wide range of talents and personalities all converging haphazardly on a stage.
There were surprises where you thought there might be groans: Jay Siegel, the 55-ish lead singer of the Tokens ('The Lion Sleeps Tonight') who looks like a successful owner of a car dealership, knocked off bravura performances of two old Sedaka songs like a pro, including "Everybody Knows," the group's first hit.
Jane Olivor, a singer from the late '70s who never quite made it, did two more Sedaka hits and nearly upstaged the whole proceeding. Made out to be a Barbra Streisand type 20 years ago, Olivor should be a regular on the cabaret circuit after last night. You'd think she could a month at Feinstein's over on Park Avenue without blinking an eye.
And then there was Sedaka himself, who played two new songs and one old one, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." He's never been hip, not even in the '60s. As he said last night, when the Beatles arrived in 1964: "Not good."
He retired until his agent, Dick Fox, sent him to play in England in the early '70s. Sedaka was rediscovered by Elton John, who recorded him on his own label. The result was a new career. Sedaka had hits with "Laughter in the Rain," a slow version of "Breaking Up," and "Love Will Keep Us Together."
He is not a great lyricist. Since his writing partner, Howard Greenfield, died, Sedaka's been wordless. His new lyrics are a tad awkward for him, but better than most.
It's his melodies that are just gorgeous. Trained at the Juilliard School of Music, Sedaka is a musical savant. His piano playing is far more sophisticated than Elton or Billy, and he has a sense of dynamics that even Carole King would kill for. He should be writing film scores, but he doesn't need to.
Instead, he has the Friars. You can't ask for anything better than that.