REMEMBERING JERRY SPRINGER
By Sherry Thomas
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT RISKO
By Sherry Thomas
ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT RISKO
The child of refugees who escaped the Holocaust, Gerald Norman Springer— known about the world as politicians, journalist, and talk show host Jerry Springer— died April 27 at his home in Evanston.
He was 79.
And while he may have been raised in New York, the legacy of Jerry Springer was made in Illinois.
After earning a law degree at Northwestern University and entering the political arena—serving as a campaign advisor for Robert F. Kennedy and then mayor of Cincinnati from 1977 to 1978—Springer turned to journalism.
He won several local Emmy Awards while reporting for Cincinnati’s WLWT before finding his way into the career that would make him infamous. In 1991, he launched The Jerry Springer Show, a talk show in which Springer and notable guests discussed current political topics.
With much of that show being filmed in WMAQ-TV’s NBC Tower in Chicago, it was very much a product of the Windy City.
Over the decades The Jerry Springer Show, featuring outrageous episodes like “Honey, I Hacked Off My Manhood,” “I Married a Horse,” and “My Wife Weighs 900 Pounds,” dumbfounded and shocked the world and made Springer the undisputed king and commander of daytime television.
And yet behind the scenes, the man who surrounded himself with so much drama sought refuge from the madness on the North Shore—often seen hanging out in Evanston’s Bar Louie or shopping at the nearby Jewel-Osco.
“I never do interviews about my private life, and I would never be a guest on my own show,” he said in a 2016 interview in Evanston Magazine, formerly published by JWC Media. “I would never, ever do what these people do, because once you do it you no longer have privacy. You can’t take it back once you say it.”
Perhaps all this secrecy helped to divert from the truth, which is that despite his reputation as the titan of trash TV, Springer was first and foremost a political player dedicated to pioneering change. Born in London in 1944 as his family fled Nazi persecution, he was 5 years old when they emigrated to New York to start a new life. Issues of personal liberty and freedom of speech remained close to his heart until his final days.
It was one of many parts of his multifaceted persona, which was revealed over the years as deeply empathic and focused on family.
For example, when he was asked to compete on Dancing with the Stars in 2006, he initially refused to take part because he “didn’t know how to dance and didn’t think it was appropriate. Then he remembered that his daughter Katie’s wedding was coming up and saw it as the perfect way to prepare for her big day.
It was also at that time that he shared that Katie—who was blind, born without nasal passages, and deaf in one ear—was his inspiration and dedicated one particularly stirring performance to his daughter who was there to cheer him on.
“I talked with Katie about it and we thought, you know what, this could be a way to combine what I do in life, which is show business, with the wedding,” he told Access Hollywood. “But actually, it’s not much different than Katie’s life. The lesson of life, which you teach your children, is that whatever hand you’re dealt, you go out there and do the best you can. You don’t worry about how good anyone else might be, you don’t worry about vanity, or ‘Oh, I’m going to look silly.’ Katie lives her whole life like that, so I can do it in a dance.”
Further evidence of Springer’s devotion to his daughter comes in the form of Evanston’s public school for students with disabilities. Springer donated $230,000 to Park School, where his daughter volunteered, to build a “Snoezelen room.” Called Katie’s Corner, the area was equipped with special lights, ladders, and swings that helped students with learning disabilities to calm down or become alert enough to learn.
His incredible career went on to tick yet more boxes—from hosting a UK version of his show to a number of acting gigs (and frequent self-parody).
He’d often courted controversy, but what came through loud and clear was that Springer gave a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard—and it’s a mission that goes back to his remarkable beginnings.
“I am dedicated to upholding the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution,” he says. “My own family saw first-hand what happens when those freedoms are denied.”
Springer is survived by his wife Margaret “Micki” nee Velten, daughter Katherine “Katie” (Adam) Yenkin, and grandson Richard “Ricky,” along with sister Evelyn, her husband Dr. Barry Strauch, and family.