By Patrick Markey
Phil Gibbons has the luck of the Irish. Quite literally.
One night the Santa Monic, Calif., resident is sitting in a New York Irish bar on Manhattan’s West Side. The next he’s back at the bar carrying a fresh check for half a million dollars.
A media internet employer, Gibbons popped into Kennedy’s on West 57th Street on a recent evening, the night before he was due to take his place on television’s hottest seat — facing Regis Philbin on ABC’s hugely popular television game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"
An avid fan of the show and a trivia junkie, Gibbons had been going through questions on the show for about six months with work colleagues. So when he was selected for a semifinal spot, he said he felt like he had a good chance at answering the show’s hodgepodge of general-knowledge questions and hitting the million-dollar prize.
"I really have an interest in minutia and trivia and I really like the show," said Gibbons, who was back in New York this week for a high school reunion in Long Island.
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An Irish American, Gibbons also carries an Irish passport thanks to his grandfather, a County Mayo native who left Ireland to sign up with the New York Police Department.
So dinner and some piano music at Kennedy’s, the well-known Irish hangout on the West Side, seemed the logical choice for a pre-millionaire night out.
The next day at the studios, Gibbons managed to snag the last hot-seat spot of that show taping. By the time he had answered enough questions to collect $8,000, Gibbons had spent all three special lifelines which contestants use to call for help on tricky questions.
But staging what the show’s host Philbin called the greatest comeback, Gibbons finally hit the $500,000 mark. He walked away with his check after being stumped by a question about the original Sony Walkman.
For celebrations? It was back to Kennedy’s bar and restaurant carrying his temporary, television prop check.
"Everyone was saying you have to come back the next night and tell us how you do. So I went back and pulled out the false check," Gibbons said.
Not surprisingly, Gibbons is still on a high.
"I feel fantastic in light of the fact that I was lucky to get into the hotseat," he said. "You have a feeling that you have a shot at winning some real money. I thought I’d get about $32,000."
Gibbons is still contemplating ways to spend his new trivia windfall.
"I’m enjoying what I’m doing now," he said. "I think I’ll sit tight for the moment."