Joseph Wapner, the retired L.A. Superior Court judge who went on to host The People's Court and kick-start an entire genre of courtroom-based reality TV, died in his home on Sunday. He was 97.
Wapner presided on the show for a span of 12 seasons, from 1981 to 1993, filming nearly 2,500 episodes and becoming a household name—as well as an iconic reference in the film Rain Man.
"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," Yahoo reported.
Yet Wapner was never out to be a celebrity, and was at first reluctant to start a career in television. In the end, he said, it was the "opportunity to really teach people about law" that made the difference.
Even so, we should never forget that Wapner made it possible to watch court cases where clowns sued over broken bubble guns. Truly, he changed television for the better, and forever.
Rest in peace, your honor.