For a London-born product of World War II and self-proclaimed "Woodstockian hippie," commercial and financial success was never a consideration. But success and infamy is what Jerry Springer has built an entire career upon.
A jack of all trades, Springer remains relevant after nearly four decades in the public eye. Springer will don a new hat in Atlanta Sept. 8-13 for the Theater of the Stars' presentation of "Chicago," where the ringmaster will put his life experiences to use as lawyer and showman Billy Flynn.
"I get the character," Springer said. "Billy Flynn is a flamboyant Chicago attorney. I'm an attorney, been in Chicago (where "The Jerry Springer Show" was filmed until August) 19 years, and, even though I'm not personally flamboyant, the character of my show is over the top."
"I get this showbiz, razzle dazzle, give'em what they want (thing), which is what Billy Flynn does. He gives them what they want so he can get his client off. I give them what they want to entertain on my television show."
Springer's show, the eponymous tabloid show, is infamous for its circus-like portrayal of dysfunctional marital and domestic situations. It was an experience Springer never bargained for. It was, in fact, a network assignment for a content Cincinnati news anchor.
In 1968, fresh out of law school at Northwestern University in Chicago, Gerald "Jerry" Springer joined presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy on the campaign trail. Springer was wide-eyed with aspirations of conquering global ills, of riding the last waves of the Civil Rights Movement and of boycotting the seemingly endless Vietnam War.
Following Kennedy's assassination in the summer of 1968, Springer put his Juris Doctor to good use, joining a Cincinnati law firm. From there, his life became a whirlwind of explosive careers and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. From lawyer to politician to controversial talk show host, Springer has made the most of his 65 years.
In 1970, Springer began his political career when he ran for the Democratic primary in Cincinnati on the anti-war platform. Voters, Springer alleges, incensed by the debacle at Kent State just a day prior, demonstrated their outrage with a vote for Springer. His win was soon followed by a place on the Cincinnati City Council and, from 1977-78, a turn as Cincinnati's mayor.
Upon finishing his term as mayor, and following an unsuccessful bid for Ohio governor, Springer joined the NBC affiliate as a news anchor. He was eventually slated to inherit the talk show reins from retiring host Phil Donahue.
"I had no desire to do it," Springer said. "I didn't watch talk shows. I didn't know anything about it, to be honest."
The show has survived 19 years, and tapings, now held in Stamford, Conn., still cater to packed audiences.
In 2006, Springer was a contestant on the third season of "Dancing with the Stars." The experience prepared him not only for the dance numbers of "Chicago" but for the live quality of the action of a stage production.
"(On) 'Dancing with the Stars,' I had a routine to follow, albeit for two minutes. That created a pressure," Springer said. "You can't stop the show, you can't forget lines, you just gotta do it."
Springer starred in the West End production of "Chicago" in London, as well as a three-week run on Broadway. He will reprise his role as Billy Flynn in Philadelphia before his television commitments take priority.
Springer's family, including wife Micki and daughter Katie, have praised the family man for his Broadway debut.
"But your family is always going to love you," Springer said, laughing. "Although, ("Chicago")'s probably the first thing I've done other than politics that they can respect."
SideBar: If you go
· What: Chicago: The Musical
· When: Sept. 8-13
· Where: The Fabulous Fox Theatre
· For more information: Visit http://www.foxtheatre.org/index.htm