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Joseph Wapner, the real-life retired judge who presided over the syndicated court show The People's Court for more than a decade, died Sunday, TMZ is reporting. He was 97.
According to TMZ, Wapner was suffering from breathing problems and was admitted to a hospital last week. He returned home Friday with hospice care.
Warner was a retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge when The People’s Court debuted in September 1981. It ran for 12 seasons and sparked a slew of other court shows in syndication. It still airs today, with Judge Marilyn Milian sitting on the judge's bench.
Wapner served at the L.A. Superior Court from 1961-79 after two years as a municipal judge. He was recommended for The People's Court by another superior court judge, Christian Markey, who had been approached by producer Ralph Edwards.
Markey was not about to retire to go on TV but told Edwards that Wapner would be perfect for television.
A 1989 poll conducted by the Washington Post showed that while only 9 percent of people could name the chief justice of the U.S. 54 percent knew that Wapner was the judge on The People’s Court.
"When The People's Court came along, I had an opportunity to really teach people about law," he said in a 2005 interview with the Archive of American Television. "It was very important to me."
He received four Daytime Emmy nominations for his work and then a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Born in Los Angeles, Wapner attended Hollywood High and then USC, where he got his undergraduate degree and then, in 1948, his law degree. He was appointed to the bench by California Gov. Pat Brown in 1959.