Judge Joseph Wapner, reality TV’s very first gavel-banging star, died Sunday after a week of health problems, according to TMZ. He was 97.
Wapner was a jurist in Los Angeles Superior Court when he was tapped by Hollywood to lead “The People’s Court” in September 1981.
The opinionated and craggy Wapner was an instant success and producers rushed to copy-cat the format and create more reality-based TV court shows – like Judge Judy – geared to afternoon viewers.
Wapner heard thousands of cases during his 12-year run and turned “The People’s Court” into an integral part of pop-culture.
Dustin Hoffman’s “three minutes to Wapner” line in his turn as an autistic savant in “Rain Man” became a much parodied expression.
Wapner was hospitalized last week with breathing problems, TMZ reported, but he was sent back home Friday to die at his West Los Angeles home under hospice care.
Wapner was married to wife, Mikey, for 70 years and the pair had three children.
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