Gerald Norman Springer
February 13, 1944
London, England, United Kingdom
|Died||April 27, 2023 (aged 79)|
|Resting place||Memorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, Illinois, U.S.|
|56th Mayor of Cincinnati|
January 1, 1977 – January 1, 1978
|Preceded by||Jim Luken|
|Succeeded by||Bobbie L. Sterne|
|Member of the Cincinnati City Council|
January 1, 1976 – 1981
January 1, 1972 – April 29, 1974
Gerald Norman Springer (February 13, 1944 – April 27, 2023) was an American broadcaster, journalist, actor, producer, lawyer, and politician. Born in London during World War II to German-Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust, Springer was raised in Queens, New York City. He attended Northwestern University School of Law, qualified as a lawyer, and first became actively involved in politics working for the campaign of Robert Kennedy in 1968.
A Cincinnati City Council member, Springer served as the 56th Mayor of Cincinnati from 1977 to 1978. He then worked as a local news anchor in Cincinnati where he won several Regional Emmy Awards for commentary. Springer was best known for hosting the sometimes controversial tabloid talk show Jerry Springer from 1991 to 2018. He was also the host of America's Got Talent from 2007 to 2008, and of the courtroom show Judge Jerry from 2019 to 2022. Off television, he also hosted The Jerry Springer Podcast from 2015 to 2022. He was noted as a pioneer in the emergence of "trash TV"; his eponymous show was a "commercial smash and certifiable cultural phenomenon" in the 1990s.
Gerald Norman Springer was born on February 13, 1944, in the London Underground's Highgate station while the station was in use as a shelter from German bombing during World War II. Springer grew up on Chandos Road, East Finchley. His parents, Margot (née Kallmann; a bank clerk) and Richard Springer (owner of a shoe shop), were German-Jewish refugees who escaped from Landsberg an der Warthe, Prussia (now Gorzów Wielkopolski, Poland). His maternal grandmother, Marie Kallmann, who was left behind, was killed in the gas vans of Chełmno extermination camp in German-occupied Poland. His paternal grandmother, Selma Springer (née Elkeles), died at the hospital in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Selma Springer's brother, Hermann Elkeles, was a renowned Berlin doctor who also died at Theresienstadt concentration camp.
In January 1949, when Springer was four, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, a borough of New York City. He attended nearby Forest Hills High School. One of his earliest memories about current events was when he was 12 and watching the 1956 Democratic National Convention on television where he saw and was impressed by then-Senator John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy campaign and early law career
Springer worked as a political campaign adviser to Democrat Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Following Kennedy's assassination, he began practising law at the Cincinnati law firm of Frost & Jacobs, now Frost Brown Todd.
Springer was a partner in the law firm of Grinker, Sudman & Springer from 1973 to 1985, alongside former NBA agent Ronnie Grinker (d. 1997) and current Butler County, Ohio, magistrate Harry Sudman.
In 1970, Springer ran for the United States House of Representatives. He failed to unseat incumbent Republican Donald D. Clancy, but took 45% of the vote in a traditionally Republican district. He had previously spearheaded the effort to lower the voting age, including testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of ratification of the 26th Amendment. Three days after announcing his candidacy, Springer, who was also an Army reservist at the time, was called to active duty and stationed at Fort Knox. He resumed his campaign after he was discharged.
Springer was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1971. On April 29, 1974, Springer resigned from the council after admitting to soliciting a prostitute. He ran for the office in 1975, winning by a landslide. He was reelected in 1977 and 1979. Springer was considered a "gonzo" type politician with stunts such as staying a night in jail and commandeering a bus after the city took over bus service. In 1977, Springer was chosen by the Cincinnati City Council to serve for one year as mayor.
In 1981, Springer stepped down from his seat on the City Council to focus on running for governor of Ohio, seeking the Democratic nomination in the 1982 Ohio gubernatorial election. Television commercials for Springer's campaign referenced his use of a check to pay a prostitute, saying that he was not afraid of the truth "even if it hurts." He failed to win the Democratic party's nomination—finishing a distant third behind former lieutenant governor Richard F. Celeste and Ohio Attorney General William J. Brown—and his political career was put on hold. In the late 1980s, he played a major role in saving the historic Cincinnati Union Terminal.
Springer considered running for the United States Senate in 2000 and 2004, but he backed down due to negative associations with the Jerry Springer talk show. He also considered running in the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial election, but decided against it due to his age. Even after his departure from politics, he was the largest contributor to the Hamilton County Democratic Party from 1993 to 2018.
Springer was hired as a political reporter and commentator on Cincinnati's NBC affiliate, WLWT, which had, at the time, the lowest-rated news program. Later, having been named primary news anchor and managing editor, he needed a broadcast catchphrase in the model of other great newsmen. With the help of some others at WLWT, he created his signature line: "Take care of yourself, and each other." Within two years he was Cincinnati's number-one news anchor, along with partner Norma Rashid. For five years, he was the most popular news anchor in the city, garnering ten local Emmy Awards for his nightly commentaries, which were frequently satirized by Cincinnati radio personality Gary Burbank. Those commentaries would eventually become his "Final Thought" on Jerry Springer. Springer would remain commentator at WLWT until January 1993. He resided in Loveland, Ohio, during this time.
In 1997, the Chicago-based NBC-owned station WMAQ-TV hired Springer to serve as a news commentator. However, this proved to be unpopular among viewers, as it resulted in the resignation of long-time news anchors Ron Magers and Carol Marin due to Springer's talk show. After performing only two commentaries, Springer resigned as commentator.
Jerry Springer (1991–2018)
Jerry Springer debuted on September 30, 1991. It started as a politically oriented talk show, a longer version of Springer's commentaries. Guests on the show included Oliver North and Jesse Jackson, and topics included homelessness and gun politics.
In early 1994, Springer and his new producer, Richard Dominick, revamped the show's format to garner higher ratings. The show became more successful as it became targeted toward tabloidish sensationalism. Guests were everyday people confronted on a television stage by a spouse or family member's adultery, homosexuality, transsexuality, prostitution, transvestism, hate group membership, or other controversial situations. These confrontations were often promoted by scripted shouting or violence on stage. The show received substantial ratings and much attention. By 1998, it was beating The Oprah Winfrey Show in many cities, and was reaching around 8 million viewers.
On July 10, 2002, the sons of guest Nancy Campbell-Panitz – who was murdered by her ex-husband after they appeared on a May 2000 episode with his girlfriend – filed suit in Sarasota County against Springer, his producers, and his distributor, claiming he created "a mood that led to murder". Ultimately, the estate of Campbell-Panitz dropped all monetary claims against Jerry Springer and the show agreed to waive its claims for malicious prosecution against the personal representative of the estate of Campbell-Panitz and his counsel.
The British musical, Jerry Springer: The Opera was inspired by him and his talk show. For the New York City performances of the work at Carnegie Hall his character was portrayed by Harvey Keitel. The show won four Olivier awards for its run on London's West End.
In 2005, a UK version of the show aired on Britain's ITV network titled The Springer Show. A subdued and more tongue-in-cheek version of the US show, it beat its talk-show rival Trisha Goddard five to one in the ratings.
In April 2015, Springer debuted The Jerry Springer Podcast on his website, JerrySpringer.com. He later partnered with Westwood One to stream the podcast. It was also broadcast in the UK on Talkradio, on Sundays at midnight. Springer was the second American talk show host to travel to Cuba, after Conan O'Brien, for The Jerry Springer Podcast. The podcast ended in 2022.
Judge Jerry (2019–2022)
Springer debuted a new courtroom show, Judge Jerry, on September 9, 2019. The show gave him the opportunity to host a more "grown-up" program and to use his law school education. On March 9, 2022, the series was canceled after three seasons.
From January 17, 2005, to December 5, 2006, Springer hosted Springer on the Radio, a liberal talk show on Cincinnati's WCKY-AM. He did the show from the Clear Channel studios in Kenwood, Ohio on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and in Chicago (where his television show taped at the time) on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Air America Radio syndicated the program for most of the show's run. In 2007 Springer Also Cameoed in a Couple Of Episodes Of The George Lopez Show.
He hosted Miss World in 2000 and 2001 and the Miss Universe 2008. He was also the guest host for WWE Raw on February 15, 2010, at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Springer also hosted The Price Is Right Live!.
After a few years of his US talk show being broadcast in the UK, ITV1 approached Springer, who temporarily co-hosted This Morning with Judy Finnigan in March 1999 and again in 2000. In summer 1999, ITV made 12 episodes of the UK-based version of the series, Jerry Springer UK, filmed at the same studios as his US show.
In September 1999, Springer made a pilot for a David Letterman-style talk show for ITV called Jerry Springer on Sunday. The show received good reviews and ratings and a further four episodes were commissioned to be broadcast in May 2000. Five were broadcast during May and June 2000 under the name Springer.
The series was picked up by Channel 5 and renamed Late Night with Jerry Springer. Two series were made in 2000 and 2001 with 16 episodes. While working for Channel 5 In 2001, he was the host of the UK version of Greed, and a stand in host for The Wright Stuff. On April 16, 2006, Springer was the guest host for the opening show for the third series of The Friday Night Project for Channel 4 and guest hosted Have I Got News for You on December 12, 2008. In 2007, he signed on to host Nothing But the Truth, the UK version of Nada más que la verdad.
In the media
Springer appeared in an episode of Married... with Children as the host of a talk show called The Masculine Feminist, in which he advocated for women getting the men's bowling night and eventually taking over at a bowling alley. Al Bundy and his friends tie Springer to a chair and take over his show with a stripper who jumps up and down for the crowd's delight.
Springer starred in the 1998 film Ringmaster as a talk show host largely based on himself, though named "Jerry Farrelly". Ringmaster offers a behind-the-scenes look at would-be guests who apply to a Springer-like show. The same year, Springer also released an unrelated autobiography named Ringmaster. He quipped, "I can only think of one title a year."
Four years later, Springer appeared in Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)" where the host is trying to stop a fight between men who like to fish and the wives who do not. Springer's section was titled "My Husband Left Me for a Fish." The song hit number one of the country charts in July 2002 and won CMA Video of the Year three months later.
In 1996, he appeared on an episode of the ninth season of Roseanne and on The X-Files episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus". In 1998, he voiced a cartoon version of himself in the "Starship Poopers" segment of The Simpsons Halloween episode, Treehouse of Horror IX. That same year, he appeared as himself on an episode of The Wayans Bros.. In 1999, he appeared in the episode "Mrs. Kraft" of the third season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch with his talk show. That same year, he was in an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. He made a cameo appearance in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) as himself during an episode of his show featuring Dr. Evil and his estranged son Scott Evil.
He was interviewed by satirist Chris Morris in his surreal radio series Blue Jam (Series 2, Episode 6). On January 23, 2004, Springer was featured in an episode of This American Life titled "Leaving the Fold".
In late 2006, Springer was a contestant on the third season of Dancing with the Stars, with his professional dance partner, Kym Johnson. He wanted to appear on the show so he could learn the waltz for the wedding of his daughter, Katie. Springer and Johnson were eliminated in the seventh week of competition.
Springer appeared in an episode of BBC One's television series Who Do You Think You Are? on August 27, 2008. In the episode he traveled to Poland, where he discovered that his maternal grandmother had been sent to Chełmno extermination camp by the Nazis and killed. His paternal grandmother died at Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is the Czech Republic. He wept openly when he learned of how they died.
On May 16, 2008, Springer delivered the Northwestern University School of Law commencement address. Although many students had criticized the university's choice of speaker, he received a standing ovation from about half the audience and reviews of his speech were generally positive. He later stated that his speech was about "the ethical judgments we all have to make in whatever business we go".
Springer married Micki Velton in 1973; though it is sometimes reported they divorced in 1994, a spokesperson said they were still married at the time of his death. The couple had a daughter, Katie, in 1976. She was born without nasal passages, for which she required immediate surgery after birth, and is blind, as well as deaf in one ear. In a 2006 interview, Katie stated that her parents were always supportive despite her health complications and that they did not raise her differently. In 2006, Springer donated $230,000 to Park School in Chicago, where his daughter worked as an assistant teacher, to help construct a high-tech facility called "Katie's Corner" for students with disabilities.
Springer died at his home in Evanston, Illinois, on April 27, 2023, at the age of 79. A family spokesperson said that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few months prior to his death. Steve Wilkos, former Jerry Springer show bodyguard, paid tribute to his colleague, saying "Other than my father, Jerry was the most influential man in my life. Everything I have today I owe to Jerry. He was the smartest, most generous, kindest person I've ever known. My wife and I are devastated. We will miss him terribly."
During his career, Springer and his program quickly became a cultural phenomenon, with commentators describing the show as central to the emergence of trash TV. After his death, The Guardian said that Springer "changed US television for better and worse". Despite his controversial career, he had a large fanbase from millennials, as his show gained popularity throughout their childhoods, leading the Los Angeles Times to dub him the "millennials' babysitter".
Springer was credited for creating a new television format which encouraged conflict among its guests. USA Today cited him as an inspiration for other tabloid talk shows such as Maury and The Steve Wilkos Show, with the latter program being hosted by a former security guard and guest host for Springer's show. The Associated Press said that Springer's show was "a US cultural pariah, synonymous with lurid drama".
In an obituary for Springer, The Irish Times said that Springer had changed the "television medium" through "The Jerry Springer Formula", which was "straightforward, despicable and ingenious". The BBC noted that Springer had televised the "fringes of [American] society to a global audience" and called him an "era-defining TV host".
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