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Controversial talk show host Jerry Springer dies

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

He was a news anchor and a politician, but Jerry Springer was perhaps best known for his namesake TV talk show. Fans tuned in for explorations of controversial topics and for his controversial guests, who often ended up throwing chairs and brawling. Well, Jerry Springer died today. He was 79. Ann Thompson of member station WVXU reports.

ANN THOMPSON, BYLINE: For nearly three decades, Jerry Springer was the host of a talk show that was seen by millions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JERRY SPRINGER")

JERRY SPRINGER: My guests today say they wish they could turn back the hands of time. Please meet Dusty (ph). He says there aren't enough excuses in a bottle of Jack Daniels for hooking up with his wife's mother.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Oh.

JENE GALVIN: I think his legacy is a lot of things, and it almost depends on how you knew him.

THOMPSON: Lifelong friend and family spokesperson, Jene Galvin.

GALVIN: Whether anybody likes it or not, his legacy is they knew him from the TV show. If you knew him from politics, then you know him in an altogether different way or an additional way.

THOMPSON: But the television show was the way people remembered him most. TV critic David Bianculli interviewed Springer many times and says he was very polite and civil. But Bianculli says his television show was nothing but detrimental. However, it's a legacy that must be shared.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: If you're going to blame Jerry Springer for lowering the bar in terms of television and discourse and civility, you have to also blame the audience that had an appetite for that sort of misbehavior.

THOMPSON: Gerald Norman Springer was born in London on February 13, 1944. His parents were German Jews who fled to England, and they arrived in the United States when their son was five. Springer went on to become an attorney early in life and got his start in politics before jumping to television. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970. He was on Cincinnati City Council from 1971 until he famously resigned in 1974 after being caught writing checks for sex. He would run again and win and even served one term as Cincinnati's mayor. Jene Galvin says as a politician, he had an enviable approachability.

GALVIN: People would just approach him with smiles on their faces, and he was kind to everybody and would, you know, shoot selfies, have a conversation.

THOMPSON: Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece, a longtime Springer friend, says at the start of his political career, he worked to help lower the age young people could vote in Ohio.

ALICIA REECE: And he said, no, if we can go to war and serve our country, we can vote. And so he came with Vote 19. And that's really what led to us being able to vote at 18.

THOMPSON: Springer got out of politics and later joined a local TV station starting a long career as a newscaster, commentator and even went undercover as an unhoused person to do a series of reports. Then came that legendary talk show. Jerry Springer died from pancreatic cancer at his home in suburban Chicago. For NPR News, I'm Ann Thompson in Cincinnati.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.