Politician, Talk Show Host, and Stage Star Jerry Springer Dies at 79

Springer defined trash TV at the turn of the century, and provided the inspiration for an unlikely opera.

Jerry Springer was a major television personality and occasional stage star.
(© Brett Weinstein)

Politician, television personality, and occasional stage star Jerry Springer has died at his home in Chicago. He had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago. He was 79.

Best known as the host of the long running Jerry Springer daytime talk show (1991-2018), Springer presided over a televised circus featuring out-of-control teens, adulterous spouses, klansmen, and gay cousins in love (to name a few of his eclectic variety of guests). By the late 90s, Springer was one of the most-watched daytime television shows in America, becoming synonymous with the term “trash TV” in an era with myriad options. If Maury was the gateway drug, Springer was the hard stuff. The daytime chat roundup Talk Soup regularly closed with a clip from Jerry Springer, perhaps in tacit acknowledgment that nothing else could possibly top it in terms of sensationalism.

It was an unlikely fate for Springer, a former campaign adviser to Robert F. Kennedy, who began a political career of his own following Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. Springer was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1971, but resigned in disgrace in 1974 after admitting to paying a prostitute with a personal check. Springer was reelected to the council the following year, and later severed as mayor from 1977-78.

His time as a trusted politician led to a career as a trusted news anchor on Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate, WLWT, where he began a series of nightly commentaries, signing off with the phrase, “Take care of yourself, and each other.” This became the basis for the “Final Thought” segment on Jerry Springer.

The show’s runaway success sparked the imaginations of composer Richard Thomas and librettist Stewart Lee, whose Jerry Springer — The Opera debuted in London in 2003. It eventually received a concert staging at Carnegie Hall in 2008, and a full off-Broadway production from the New Group in 2018.

Springer himself had a brief onstage career: He stepped into the role of the narrator of the Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show for several performances in the fall of 2001. He later returned to Broadway in late summer 2009 to play Billy Flynn in Chicago. He crossed the Atlantic to play that same role on London’s West End in 2012, a triumphant return to the country of his birth.

Springer was born in the Highgate station of the London Underground in 1944, when it was also used as a bomb shelter. His parents were German-Jewish refugees. He is survived by his daughter, Katie.