‘People’s Court’ Judge Joseph Wapner Dead at 97: Report

Joseph Wapner, the retired judge who starred on The People’s Court from 1981 to 1993, died on Sunday, February 26, TMZ reported. He was 97.

According to the site, Wapner was hospitalized last week after suffering breathing problems. His condition reportedly worsened and he was transferred to his home in Los Angeles on Friday, February 24, under hospice care. He died on Sunday morning.

'People's Court' Judge Joseph Wapner Dead at 97
Judge Joseph A. Wapner attends his 90th Birthday celebration and honoring him with a Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame held on November 12, 2009 in Hollywood, California. Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, who served for 20 years, was the first star of the syndicated reality court show. He presided as the series’ judge for 12 seasons and a total of 2,484 episodes and was best known for his opinionated but affable demeanor. The show was the first court show to use binding arbitration.

After The People’s Court was canceled in 1993 due to low ratings, it aired in syndication until it was revived for a second incarnation in September 1997. Former lawyer and mayor of New York Ed Koch replaced Wapner for two seasons and was later succeeded by Judge Jerry Sheindlin (Judge Judy Sheindlin‘s husband) and Florida State Circuit Court Judge Marilyn Milian, the latter of whom has since become the show’s longest reigning arbiter.

The People’s Court paved the way for a slew of TV court shows, including Divorce Court, Hot Bench and Judge Mathis.

Wapner is survived by his wife, Mickey Wapner, who he was married to for 70 years, and three children.

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