Jerry Springer di*d today at age 79 in his suburban Chicago home after a short illness, according to a statement from his family. He was a radio host, author, politician, writer, actor, lawyer, and host of a daytime show that was so offensive that he once apologized by saying it “ruined the culture.”
Springer had a lot of high-profile jobs in his life, including being the mayor of Cincinnati. However, he was best known as the host of The Jerry Springer Show, a syndicated TV show that ran for 27 years and featured shocking topics, confrontations between guests, and sometimes even fistfights.
When Springer’s talk show began in 1991, it was a more traditional event. With his suit, tie, and glasses, he looked like a younger version of the famous talk show host Phil Donahue. He also asked guests questions while walking around the crowd with a wireless microphone, just like Donahue did.
But as time went on, Springer started having more outrageous guests and topics, like cheating wives, open racists, and explicit topics that were sure to start fights.
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The show’s popularity helped build the tabloid talk show genre, which included hosts like Maury Povich, Sally Jessy Raphael, Jenny Jones, Montel Williams, and Morton Downey Jr. Springer was a likable, charming guy with a normal look and a “just ask me a question” style, which made him seem more normal than his wild guests.
When I first met Springer in 1997, I was a critic for the St. Petersburg Times. We were at a taping in Florida about a white man who was sent to jail for using threats and racial slurs to scare away his black neighbors. Springer insisted that his show was all about starting conversations.
“When TV is at its best, it’s like a mirror,” he said. “If this does nothing more than get people to sit around the dinner table and discuss this, it’s done some good.”
Unfortunately, the show also made up scandalous arguments to get more watchers and higher ratings. Springer was the friendly ringmaster who brushed off the criticism.
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Jerry Sprinter Early Career in Politics and Law
Gerald Norman Springer was born in London, England. At age 4, he moved to Queens, New York, with his family. By the late 1960s, he had graduated from Tulane University and Northwest University Law School.
He was a lawyer in Cincinnati and was finally elected to the city council in 1971. In 1974, he had to step down because he admitted to paying a sex worker by check, but he was re-elected in 1975. And in 1977, he was mayor of Cincinnati for a year.
But he became a TV star in the 1980s when Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate WLWT hired him as a political reporter and analyst. Eventually, he was made the main news anchor and managing editor for the station.
In an interview with WLWT, Jerry Springer said that when The Jerry Springer Show first started, he was still a news reporter who drove from Cincinnati to Chicago for work.
The success of Jerry Springer gave the host a lot of opportunities. He played himself in the 1998 movie Ringmaster, took over for Regis Philbin on America’s Got Talent for a short time, appeared on Dancing with the Stars, and hosted a courtroom show called Judge Jerry, which ended last year. Even his security guard, Steve Wilkos, got his own talk show, which is still on the air.
But the show’s circus-like atmosphere, in which people sometimes seemed to go onstage knowing they were expected to cause trouble and fight, could have serious effects.
In 2002, the son of a past guest who was killed by her ex-husband after her episode aired brought a lawsuit against the show. And in 2019, the family of a man who killed himself after his fiancée admitted to cheating on him on the show sued the show.
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In a conversation with the Behind the Velvet Rope podcast from last year, Springer apologized for how the show affected people, saying, ” What have I done? I’ve ruined the culture…I just hope hell isn’t that hot, because I burn real easy.”
But the host’s bold sense of humor could also make critics stop talking. When I talked to him again in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Times, I asked him if he thought fans were getting used to violent behavior. He was ready with an answer:
“Our show, every day is a morality play where the good guys win and the bad guys lose… I would argue, when you have shows or movies with violent behavior and all the people are really beautiful and sexy looking, that could inspire a kid. There’s never been a human being who watches our show and says, ‘Boy, I wanna be just like that when I grow up.'”
In a statement, Springer’s family asked fans to “make a donation or commit an act of kindness to someone in need” in his memory, noting “as he always said, ‘Take care of yourself, and each other.’ “