Joseph Wapner, America’s first reality TV judge who rose to fame on The People’s Court, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 97.
The retired judge passed away Sunday morning after being admitted to the hospital last week with breathing issues, according to the Washington Post. He was taken to his West Los Angeles home on Friday under hospice care when his condition worsened, according to TMZ.
Wapner headed the reality court show when it premiered in 1981 and was a fixture of the TV hit for 12 years, reviewing thousands of court cases.
Before heading to television, Wapner served as an L.A. County Superior Court judge for 20 years.
The People’s Court was referenced repeatedly in the 1988 film Rain Man, in which Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman) obsessively watches the show, which he refers to as simply “Wapner.”
The judge was also parodied on Saturday Night Live and in 1986, Wapner appeared on The Tonight Show to settle a dispute between David Letterman and Johnny Carson over damage inflicted to the headlight of Letterman’s vehicle. Wapner ruled in favor of Letterman, granting him $24.95.
Wapner was married to wife Mickey for 70 years. They had three children. Daughter Sarah died from heart disease in May 2015 at age 56. He is survived by his two sons, David Miron-Wapner and Fred Wapner.