From the 56th mayor of Cincinnati in the 1970s to the infamous host of his eponymous talk show, Jerry Springer was an influential figure in the US media landscape.
Jerry Springer, the onetime mayor of Cincinnati and news anchor turned legendary TV host, has died at the age of 79 after a brief illness.
The American presenter was famous for his raucous talk show, The Jerry Springer Show, which featured a three-ring circus of dysfunctional families willing to bare all on weekday afternoons including brawls, obscenities, bleep-filled arguments and blurred images of nudity. At its peak, it was a ratings powerhouse and a US cultural pariah, synonymous with lurid drama.
The show, which Springer always ended with the catchphrase "Take care of yourself and each other", aired for 27 seasons with nearly 5,000 episodes from 1991 to 2018.
Some of its last episodes had such titles as “Stripper Sex Turned Me Straight,” “Stop Pimpin’ My Twin Sister,” and “Hooking Up With My Therapist.”
Springer called it “escapist entertainment,” while others saw the show as contributing to a dumbing-down decline in American social values.
On his Twitter profile, Springer jokingly declared himself as “Talk show host, ringmaster of civilization’s end.” He also often had told people that his wish for them was “may you never be on my show.”
“Look, television does not and must not create values, it’s merely a picture of all that’s out there — the good, the bad, the ugly,” Springer said, adding: “Believe this: The politicians and companies that seek to control what each of us may watch are a far greater danger to America and our treasured freedom than any of our guests ever were or could be.”
“Jerry’s ability to connect with people was at the heart of his success in everything he tried whether that was politics, broadcasting or just joking with people on the street who wanted a photo or a word,” said Jene Galvin, a family spokesperson and friend of Springer's since 1970, in a statement.
“He’s irreplaceable and his loss hurts immensely, but memories of his intellect, heart and humour will live on.”
Gerald Norman Springer was born 13 February 1944, in a London underground railway station being used as a bomb shelter. His parents, Richard and Margot, were German Jews who fled to England during the Holocaust, in which other relatives were killed in Nazi gas chambers.
They arrived in the United States when their son was five years old and settled in the Queens borough of New York City, where Springer got his first Yankees baseball gear on his way to becoming a lifelong fan.
He studied political science at Tulane University and got a law degree from Northwestern University. He was active in politics much of his adult life, mulling a run for governor of Ohio as recently as 2017.
He entered the arena as an aide in Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. Springer, working for a Cincinnati law firm, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970 before being elected to city council in 1971.
In 1974, Springer resigned, citing “very personal family considerations.” What he didn’t mention was a probe involving prostitution. In a subsequent admission that could have been the basis for one of his future shows, Springer said he had paid prostitutes with personal checks.
Then 30, he had married Micki Velton the previous year. The couple had a daughter, Katie, and divorced in 1994.
Springer quickly bounced back politically, winning a council seat in 1975 and serving as mayor in 1977. He later became a local television politics reporter with popular evening commentaries.
Springer began his talk show in 1991. TV Guide ranked it No. 1 on a list of “Worst Shows in the History of Television,” but it was ratings gold. It made Springer a celebrity who would go on to host a liberal radio talk show and America’s Got Talent(2007 – 2008), star in a movie called Ringmaster, and compete on Dancing With the Stars.
“With all the joking I do with the show, I’m fully aware and thank God every day that my life has taken this incredible turn because of this silly show,” Springer told Cincinnati Enquirer media reporter John Kiesewetter in 2011.
Well in advance of Donald Trump’s political rise from reality TV stardom, Springer mulled a Senate run in 2003 that he surmised could draw on “nontraditional voters,” people “who believe most politics are bull.”
“I connect with a whole bunch of people who probably connect more to me right now than to a traditional politician,” Springer told the AP at the time. He opposed the war on Iraq and favoured expanding public healthcare, but ultimately did not run.
Springer also spoke often of the country he came to at the age of five as “a beacon of light for the rest of world.”
“I have no other motivation but to say I love this country,” Springer said to a Democratic gathering in 2003.
Springer appeared twice on Broadway, the first time as a replacement for the Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show for a few days in late 2001, the second time as a replacement as Billy Flynn in the musical revival Chicago for about two weeks in 2009.
Jerry Springer: The Opera, a musical written by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee and based on the TV show, had many outrageous scenes, profanity, a scene in which the Springer character hosts a talk show in hell where, in the words of the New York Times, he tries to “referee a quarrel among Satan, a diaper-clad Jesus (who confesses to being partly gay), a Mary who is a teenage unwed mother, Adam, Eve and God the Father, wearing a white Elvis suit, who belts out one of the show’s signature arias: ‘It ain’t easy being me. It so ain’t easy being me.’”
The musical was a huge hit in London, running from April 2003 to February 2005 before a UK tour in 2006. When it aired on BBC in January 2005, however, “It generated so many complaints that some BBC executives asked for police protection,” the Times said.
Springer hosted a nationally syndicated Judge Jerry show in 2019 and continued to speak out on whatever was on his mind in a podcast, but his power to shock had dimmed in the new era of reality television and combative cable TV talk shows.
Springer is survived by his ex-wife Micki Velton and his daughter Katie.