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Jerry Springer celebrated with songs and lots of laughs

Two photos of Jerry Springer greeted people attending the program Friday at Memorial Hall.
John Kiesewetter
Two photos of Jerry Springer greeted people attending the program Friday at Memorial Hall.

The former Cincinnati mayor, news anchor and TV talk show host was remembered during a funny and nostalgic 90-minute celebration of life at Memorial Hall Friday afternoon.

Jerry Springer received a final standing ovation when friends and former coworkers celebrated the life of the former Cincinnati mayor, councilman, news anchor, TV talk show host and podcaster at Memorial Hall Friday afternoon.

A rousing sing-along of "Down By the Riverside" led by Casey Campbell ended the 90-minute program filled with remembrances and lots of laughs.

Longtime friend Louis Beck opened the program by announcing that, in just six weeks in heaven, Springer "has the No. 1 rated talk show. It's Democrats and Republicans talking civilly to each other — and getting things done."

Beck also offered hope to those in attendance and watching on the web by noting that Springer once said, "If I get into heaven, then you're a slam dunk!"

Springer — who started his law, political, TV news and talk show career in Cincinnati (1969-93) — died April 27 at his suburban Chicago home after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 79.

After the Jerry Springer talk show moved to Chicago in 1992, and grew to No. 1 in the daytime ratings, Springer continued to return frequently to Cincinnati. He was always grateful for Cincinnatians who supported his political and broadcasting careers.

"I cannot think about my life or talk about my life without talking about Cincinnati and the role Channel 5 played. First of all, Channel 5 gave me my career," he said at WLWT-TV in February.

The "Jerry Springer" show remains on the CW Cincinnati and other television stations even though it was canceled in 2018.
Courtesy Jerry Springer show

The tribute Friday opened a 1973 recording of Springer singing "Save the Union Terminal," as part of the effort to prevent the demolition of the Art Deco building after Amtrak stopped using the cavernous building.

Music was always part of Springer's life. Folk music bookended his career — in the early 1970s he did gigs as a folk singer in Cincinnati clubs, and just last February, he started co-hosting the Jerry Springer and Jene Galvin Folk Hour Sundays on WMKV-FM (88.3). So music opened and closed Springer's last show Friday in Memorial Hall.

Before presenting a proclamation naming Friday "Jerry Springer Day" in Cincinnati, Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney told the crowd she would lead a chant of "Jerr-Ree! Jerr-Ree!" as heard on Springer's popular daytime talk show. (Canceled in 2018, Jerry Springer still remains on the air at 3 p.m. weekdays on WKRC-TV's CW affiliate Channel 12.2.)

"Let's just do it and get it out of our system," she said.

The mix of video tributes Friday included Hamilton County and state Democratic party officials; leaders of nonprofits who benefited from Springer's generosity; his Dancing With The Stars partner Kym Johnson; and Steve Wilkos, the Jerry Springer show security guard who now hosts his own syndicated talk show.

"I can't put into words what he's done for me. He's changed my life," Wilkos said in a video.

Wilkos was among the hundreds in Memorial Hall, along with former Springer WLWT-TV coworkers Norma Rashid, Ken Broo and Betsy Ross; former mayor and WLWT-TV news anchor Charlie Luken; and many city council members.

Rabbi Sandford Kopnick of Valley Temple in Wyoming, where Springer remained a loyal member after his career took him to TV studios in Chicago and Connecticut, said Springer was at peace when he visited with him in Chicago after his terminal cancer diagnosis.

"He knew that it was time, and he knew how to count his blessings. He said, 'I can't think of a better life with better people.' " Springer's sister, Evelyn Strauch, said that in his final days he told her: "I've had a great life. I've done so many things that I wanted to do, and I'm eternally grateful."

Springer's daughter, Katie Yenkin, told stories about going to Reds games, roller skating and going out to eat at the Cheesecake Factory with her father.

"Because of my belief in re-incarnation, I know we'll all see him again," she said.

Jerry Springer greets supporters at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio in June 1982.
Ed Reinke
Jerry Springer greets supporters at a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio in June 1982.

Born Gerald Norman Springer into a Jewish family in London on Feb. 13, 1944, he was raised in New York City and earned a law degree in 1968 from Northwestern University. He joined Cincinnati's Frost & Jacobs law firm, where he had clerked in 1967.

The charismatic liberal Democrat was elected to city council in 1971 and 1973. After he resigned as vice mayor in 1974 for writing a check to a sex worker, he was re-elected to council in 1975, 1977 and 1979. He was named mayor for a year by fellow council members after receiving the largest plurality for city council in 1977.

In a video tribute, Luken called Springer's 1975 election to council 18 months after resigning "one of the greatest comebacks — if not the greatest comeback — in Cincinnati politics."

After a failed run for Ohio governor in 1982, Springer joined WLWT-TV as a news commentator. He was Channel 5's main news co-anchor 1984-93, while making his daytime talk show debut at Channel 5 in September 1991. When the show moved to Chicago in 1992, he commuted daily to Cincinnati for six months to remain Channel 5's news anchor and nightly commentator. He retired in 2022 after 26 seasons of his daytime talk show and three seasons of his Judge Jerry daytime court show (2019-22).

The Memorial Hall program ended with 19 folk singers on stage performing Springer's favorite songs, "This Land Is Your Land," "Blowin' in the Wind" (performed on video by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary) and "Down By the Riverside."

Stookey explained how Springer generously donated to his music foundation. Then Springer was shown on video telling a group, "The song that got me — it just bolted through — was Peter, Paul and Mary's "Blowin' In The Wind."

The conclusion of "Down By The Riverside" was greeted with a standing ovation — and more chants of "Jerr-Ree! Jerr-Ree! Jerr-Ree!"

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.