Joseph Wapner, unlikely TV star, dead at 97

HOLLYWOOD - NOVEMBER 12: Judge Joseph Albert Wapner receives a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on November 12, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES _ A family member says Joseph Wapner, who presided over “The People’s Court” with steady force during the heyday of the reality courtroom show, has died. He was 97.

David Wapner said his father died Sunday at home in his sleep. He said his father was hospitalized a week ago with breathing problems and had been under home hospice care.

“The People’s Court” was one of the granddaddies of the syndicated reality shows of today.

Wapner decided real small-claims cases on the show from 1981 to 1993. He auditioned for the show soon after retiring from Los Angeles courts, where he had been a judge for more than 20 years.

His affable, no-nonsense approach attracted many fans, putting the show in the top five in syndication at its peak.