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'The People's Court' Judge Joseph Wapner died at the age of 97

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Judge Joseph Wapner who starred on "The People's Court" from 1981 to 1993 died Sunday. He was 97. 

Wapner was hospitalized last week after suffering breathing problems, TMZ reports. His condition reportedly worsened and Friday he was transferred to his home in Los Angeles under hospice care. 

Wapner has several strokes in recent years but his grandson, Gabriel Wapner, told The Washington Post he did not know the immediate cause of death. 

The former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge auditioned for "The People's Court" soon after retiring. 


"The People's Court," which was a syndicated, half-hour show, helped pave the way for courtroom-based reality shows such as "Divorce Court," "Hot Bench" and "Judge Judy." 

Just a few years after its debut, "The People's Court" regularly attracted about 20 million viewers, The Washington Post reports. Many attribute the show's early success to Wapner's no-nonsense approach. 

"The People's Court" was unscripted and featured disputes between plaintiffs and defendants who brought their small-claims cases to the show. 

Both parties had to agree to have their dispute settled outside a typical courtroom and were required to sign an arbitration contract, The Washington Post reports. Each also received about $250 to appear on TV. 

Wapner was with the show for 12 seasons and 2,484 episodes, US Weekly reports. 

Wapner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in November 2009. 

In a 2005 interview with Archive of American Television, ABC reports that Wapner said he'd like to be "remembered as a judge who acted as a judge should I want to be remembered in a kindly way, in a positive way, someone who had an influence on the law, the way people act, the way people should act."

Wapner is survived by his wife of 70 years, Mildred “Mickey” Nebenzahl, and their three children. 

Part 1 of 3 Old "The People's Court" with Judge Wapner and Doug Llewelyn on "USA Live" Early 1990's

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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