Judge Joseph Wapner, who famously presided over The People’s Court, has died. He was 97.
Wapner was first hospitalized last week complaining of breathing problems. He was eventually relocated to his Los Angeles residence on Friday as his condition worsened, where he remained under hospice care until his death on Sunday morning.
The People’s Court first launched in September 1981 and became an instant TV phenomenon, paving the way for a slew of daytime courtroom dramas. Wapner was eventually let go from the series amid a potential revamp in 1993, and the show was ultimately cancelled. It returned in 1997, with former New York City mayor Ed Koch presiding over the courtroom through 1999; he was succeeded by Judge Jerry Sheindlin (aka Judge Judy’s husband), who was then replaced by current judge Marilyn Milian, who has been with the series since 2001.
Over the years, Wapner’s version of The People’s Court was parodied on Saturday Night Live. It was also famously referenced by Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, who panicked when he wasn’t near a television when he only had “three minutes to Wapner.”
Prior to his stint as a TV judge, Wapner served as a L.A. County Superior Court judge for 20 years.