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Jerry Springer, influential US talkshow host, dies aged 79

Family of famed TV figure and former mayor of Cincinnati announces he died ‘peacefully’ at home in Chicago on Thursday

The talkshow host Jerry Springer, a former mayor of Cincinnati whose work was vastly influential in daytime TV worldwide, has died. He was 79.

Springer’s family said he died “peacefully” on Thursday at home in Chicago.

In a statement, the family said: “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.

“He’s irreplaceable and his loss hurts immensely, but memories of his intellect, heart and humor will live on.”

Springer was best known for his 27-year, near-4,000-episode run as host of his eponymous talkshow, which featured guests who purportedly engaged in controversial, excessive and often overtly sexual behavior.

Episode titles that could have been ripped from tabloid headlines included I Slept with 251 Men in 10 Hours!, I’m a Breeder for the Klan and I Married a Horse.

Guests often broke into chair-wielding brawls or fretted while Springer read paternity test results on air.

The show often generated negative headlines. A 15-year-old boy in Florida charged with sexual battery of his half-sister, aged eight, told detectives he learned what incest was from Springer. A woman in a segment entitled Secret Mistresses Confronted was found dead within hours of broadcast.

Despite it all, in 1998, seven years into its run, the show briefly enjoyed stronger ratings than Oprah Winfrey’s more mainstream daytime offering.

It catapulted Springer to fame, including the 1998 Hollywood comedy Ringmaster, loosely based on his life, and a cameo in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me in 1999, the same year he signed a contract worth $30m. The show also inspired a musical, Jerry Springer: the Opera, which logged more than 600 performances in London from 2003 to 2005.

Springer at a rally in Cincinnati in June 1982, during his unsuccessful run for governor of Ohio. Photograph: Ed Reinke/AP

On Thursday, the journalist and Twitter influencer Yashar Ali said the weekday daytime slot Springer’s show held at the height of its popularity helped it make an indelible impression on American millennials.

“Jerry Springer wasn’t just a host,” Ali wrote on Twitter. “He was also the babysitter for many millennials who were home sick from school.”

KSI, a YouTube celebrity, said: “RIP Jerry Springer. You made my off days at school so much more entertaining.”

The show was taken off the air in 2018, years after its audience began to dwindle. Springer later hosted a courtroom show that was canceled after three seasons. From 2007 to 2008, he hosted America’s Got Talent.

Some credited his success with inspiring other critically panned ratings magnets including Real Housewives and 90-Day Fiance.

In November last year, Springer said he was “so sorry” for the cultural impact his show had at the turn of the century.

“I just apologize,” he told David Yontef, host of the Behind the Velvet Rope podcast. “What have I done? I’ve ruined the culture. I just hope hell isn’t that hot because I burn real easy. I’m very light-complected.”

Yet he would also bristle when his work was dismissed as “trash”.

“It’s basically elitist,” Springer said. “You have all these celebrities [coming on other shows to] … talk about who they slept with, what drugs they’ve been on, what misbehavior they had, and we can’t buy enough tickets to their shows. We can’t buy enough of their albums. We go to see their movies. We buy their books.

“We think they’re god-like.”

Gerald Norman Springer was born in London during the second world war after his family fled Nazi Germany. He was four when his family moved to New York.

In 1965, he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Tulane University in New Orleans. He received a law degree from Northwestern University in Illinois three years later, and advised the presidential campaign of Robert F Kennedy before being elected to the Cincinnati city council in 1971.

He resigned his seat in 1974, after admitting soliciting a sex worker. Styling himself as a liberal, Springer successfully ran for re-election to the council after apologizing and addressing the scandal head-on in his advertising, and the panel picked him to serve a year as Cincinnati’s mayor, beginning in 1977.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, while apparently resorting to a double entendre referencing both his sex worker solicitation and his demoralizing resignation, Springer said of his elevation to mayor: “When I think of being flat on my back three years ago, having this happen is almost unbelievable. This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my political life.”

In 1982, Springer ran unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio. In one campaign ad he said: “Nine years ago I spent time with a woman I shouldn’t have. And I paid her with a check. I wish I hadn’t done that. And the truth is, I wish no one would ever know. But in the rough world of politics, opponents are not about to let personal embarrassments lay to rest.

“… The next governor is going to have to take some heavy risks and face some hard truths. I’m prepared to do that. This commercial should be proof. I’m not afraid, even of the truth, and even if it hurts.”

On Thursday, the political commentator David Axelrod wrote on Twitter that Springer was “funny, self-effacing, incisive” during his political career.

Henry Gomez of NBC News added that as recently as the early 2000s, Springer was the Democratic party’s best hope of securing statewide office in conservative Ohio.

Springer left politics to become a news anchor and commentator at the Cincinnati television station WLWT, setting the stage for his talkshow career.

WLWT reported on Thursday that plans for funeral services and a memorial gathering were still being formed. His family asked the public to consider honoring him by donating to “a worthy advocacy organization” or simply being kind to someone.

“As he always said [at the end of his shows], ‘Take care of yourself – and each other’,” WLWT added.

Springer’s family said he died from pancreatic cancer.

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