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TV Talk Show Host Jerry Springer Dies at 79

The former mayor of Cincinnati became a household name with the controversial and wildly popular ‘Jerry Springer Show’

spinner image Jerry Springer visits the Build Series at Build Studio in New York City
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

TV personality Jerry Springer, who jokingly called himself the “ringmaster of civilization’s end,” died at 79 on April 27.

Hitler killed 27 of his relatives, and his parents fled Germany for London, where he was born in a subway station used as a bomb shelter. Gerald Norman Springer was born February 13, 1944, grew up in New York, worked on Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, and was elected to Cincinnati’s city council at 27. A bell-bottom-clad hippie troublemaker, he rode with garbagemen, joined the prisoners in the city’s worst jail, and proposed to exempt Cincinnati residents from the draft during the Vietnam War. He resigned after his check was found on the wall of a prostitution parlor but won his seat back, then was elected mayor.

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He became a witty, popular TV news commentator on a station that owned Phil Donahue’s talk show. Assigned to replace Donahue, Springer changed the format of the show, entering by sliding down a stripper pole and presenting such guests as a woman who claimed 251 lovers, a man who boasted that he slept with his stripper sister, and another who claimed he wished to marry his horse. The Jerry Springer Show (1991-2018) featured as many as eight fights per episode. TV Guide called it the worst show in TV history, but it frequently beat Oprah’s ratings and made Springer rich.

“In a free society, the media should reflect the entire society,” he told Men’s Health in 2015. “Most people say 90 percent of America would never go on television to talk about their personal failings. But ten percent would. And ten percent of America is 32 million people.”

In later years, he appeared in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and on Dancing With the Stars. He inspired a musical, Jerry Springer: The Opera, in which he defends his life in hell and Jesus tries to reconcile Adam, Eve and the Virgin Mary. It earned a prestigious Laurence Olivier Award in England, as well as massive protests by Christian groups. Harvey Keitel starred as Springer in a U.S. production.

“Anybody can be a talk show host,” Springer told Entertainment Tonight in 2016. “You do three things to be a talk show host. You have to be able to say, ‘You did what?’ ‘Come on out!’ ‘We’ll be right back.’ If you can do those three lines, you’ve got a career.”

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