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Jerry Springer, who created his own television talk-show genre, dies at 79

A former mayor, whose parents fled the Holocaust, made an unforgettable mark on 1990s television with his eponymous talk show.

Jerry Springer in January 2011. Credit: Justin Hoch for Hudson Union Society via Wikimedia Commons.
Jerry Springer in January 2011. Credit: Justin Hoch for Hudson Union Society via Wikimedia Commons.

One of television’s most memorable and influential figures, Gerald (“Jerry”) Springer, died on April 27 after battling pancreatic cancer for months. He was 79 years old.

Springer was named to a one-year term as the mayor of Cincinnati in 1977, which preceded his career as an anchor and commentator on the television station WLWT.

From 1991 to 2018, his wild, regularly criticized “The Jerry Springer Show” ran, with the trademark audience cry, “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” when guests—sometimes family members or former friends involved in outlandish conflicts—insulted one another and even fought physically.

Initially styled on conventional talk programs, like those of Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael and Oprah Winfrey, Springer’s program evolved (some would say devolved) into something of its own genre.

The show inspired a widely panned 1998 comedy, “Ringmaster,” in which Springer starred as a fictionalized version of himself.

‘I’m not saying Jews have the answer’

Springer was born in the United Kingdom on Feb. 13, 1944—in a London Tube station used as a shelter during bombing in World War II—to Jewish refugees who fled Landsberg an der Warthe in Prussia (now Poland). He lost many family members in the Holocaust, including both grandmothers and his maternal uncle.

In 2009, Springer told the Jewish Chronicle that he believes in God.

“My parents happened to be Jewish so I use Jewish traditions to thank whoever is responsible for it. If I was born to Catholic parents, I would use the Catholic tradition,” he said. “So I’m not saying Jews have the answer more than Catholics. I don’t know. I don’t (know) what it’s going to be like after we die.”

After the conclusion of his nearly 30-year show, Springer appeared frequently as a guest on other programs. He also started another program, a “Judge Judy”-inspired courtroom show titled “Judge Jerry,” which ran from 2019 to 2022.

His trademark show had a reputation for engaging the lowest common denominator, though Springer faced the camera earnestly at the conclusion of every program and explained the message of each episode.

And to his viewers, who tuned in regularly for a dose of shock, chaos and debauchery, he would say: “Take care of yourself and each other.”

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