"The People's Court" judge Joseph Wapner dies at 97

Millions of Americans welcomed the retired Los Angeles judge, with his grandfatherly appearance, into their living rooms every weekday.

He was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959 and two years later to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he served for 18 years before retiring in 1979. No cause of death has been given, but TMZ says that he was hospitalized last week with "breathing problems" and his condition had worsened since then. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in World War II.

Following his exit from the series in 1993, the show re-launched with former New York City mayor Ed Koch as the show's primary judge.

His charisma became a focal point of pop culture, bringing him to "The Tonight Show" to settle a dispute between David Letterman and Johnny Carson. The show's star, Judge Joseph Wapner, helped usher in a slew of imitators over the following decades, from Judge Judy to Judge Joe Brown.

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He died Sunday morning, according to TMZ.

"When "The People's Court" came along, I had an opportunity to really teach people about law".

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Mickey, and by two sons, both of whom joined the legal profession.

  • Adam Floyd