TV’s first famous judge has left the bench for good.
Joseph Wapner, who ushered in reality court shows as the first star of “The People’s Court,” died Sunday after a week of health problems, his son confirmed to multiple media outlets. He was 97.
Wapner was hospitalized last week for breathing problems and returned to his Los Angeles home Friday under hospice care, according to TMZ. His cause of death was not immediately announced.
Wapner debuted on the show in 1981 and remained on “The People’s Court” for 12 years, longer than any other judge in its history. He oversaw real small claims cases using a tough but fair approach, cutting short all nonsense and bickering he saw from the bench.
The show became an instant hit, and opened the door for the new genre of reality court programs that continues today.
Wapner stepped down from “The People’s Court” in 1993, after nearly 2,500 episodes. He was the longest-serving judge in the show’s history until Marilyn Milian, who still serves as its presiding judge, beat his record in 2013.
Before taking his honor to TV, Wapner served for two decades on the California Municipal and Superior Courts. He was also a U.S. Army veteran who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service in World War II.
TMZ first reported the death.