Things just keep getting better for Judge Judy! At age 74, the TV favorite is balancing a successful 40-year marriage — aside from a brief year-long hiccup — to husband Jerry Sheindlin, and a booming empire that just earned her $50 million a year through 2021. And in a new exclusive interview with Closer Weekly, the septuagenarian revealed how she does it all.
The recent news of Judge Judy’s multi-season renewal may have brought with it rumors of trouble in Judy and Jerry’s relationship. But listening to her, it sounds like things are as hot as ever. “I still like to see him walk into a room. He looks good,” she told Closer, adding that her 83-year-old husband has been warned to “keep a reasonable physique or else he’s out the door!” The rule goes both ways, as she revealed, “We’ve been married 40 years and he has never seen me without my hair combed or lipstick on.”
That’s not to say the couple hasn’t had their share of bumps along the way. In 1990 — 13 years after they first tied the knot — Judy divorced Jerry when she didn’t feel supported by him after her father’s death. Ultimately, the split didn’t last, and they remarried a year later. The powerhouse lawyer admitted, “I missed Jerry. I like to have someone to fuss over. I like to be mated. It’s natural for me. I learned the hard way that sometimes what you think makes you happy won’t.”
This wasn’t the first divorce for the Brooklyn native, who aspired to have a “great love affair” like her parents. “They were a sexy couple,” she said of their 48-year union filled with poems and love letters. As she grew up, her father pushed her to be “something different” than a housewife. Still, she set her sights on finding a husband. “You left your house in a pine box or a white dress,” she quipped of the era, “so it was time to get married. I was almost 21. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
First, she set her sights on a law degree after her father suggested she apply her arguing skills to a career in the Senate. She married lawyer Ronald Levy in 1964, and after she graduated from New York Law School the following year, the two welcomed daughter Jamie and son Adam. Judy called her first husband a “nice guy” and “good dancer,” but she couldn’t bring herself to stay home with the kids for long. She reasoned, “After a period of time I was bored. I actually watched soap operas — and looked forward to them!”
She then returned to school for her master’s in family law, and the still-young attorney went back to work. Unfortunately, her ex didn’t take the job seriously, viewing it simply as “a hobby” that got in the way of his own practice. When Closer spoke with Ronald, he disagreed with his former wife’s perspective. “A hobby? I don’t think so,” he stated. “She was a professional. She was a lawyer, and I can’t take that away from her. And she did well!”
Either way, the marriage was over and Judy had to deal with the “scary” reality that this was the first divorce in her family. She continued, “It was the right thing to do. And within a relatively short time I met Jerry Sheindlin, so it was a frightening time but a fun time.” The attraction was instant. “I would have married him two days after we met. I was so crazy about him,” she raved, “but we didn’t marry for a year.”
He too was divorced — with three kids of his own — and a lawyer, and their chemistry was undeniable, if not occasionally fiery. “We argue and we have terrific fights,” she said, “but there is something that you can’t quite put your finger on.” Their aforementioned split came about when her dad — “the one person I could totally rely on” — passed away. “I was so sad when my father died, that an easier emotion for me to deal with was being angry at Jerry for not picking up the slack than dealing with the sadness of the loss,” she explained.
After a year of dating other people, Jerry and Judy couldn’t pretend anymore that they didn’t want to be together. “I just had to come to terms with the fact that men of that generation expect to be taken care of and catered to,” she admitted. It was a worthwhile compromise, as they’ve been happy ever since, relishing life with their five children and 13 grandchildren, aged three to 29.
Jerry was also a big support when the TV judge kicked off her self-titled show in 1995, which went on to make her the queen of daytime. She boasted, “These last 22 years have been one grand party. I knew if I worked hard, I could have both a family and a career. I just felt it.” After her own success, Judy has a message for all women who rely on “marrying a rich guy” to be happy. “Then time passes by, they get older, and their schmuck of a husband decides he’s now in love with a yoga instructor… You have to have something of your own,” she said.
That she does, with her ever-growing empire recently adding the courtroom series Hot Bench, as well as an in-the-works game show called iWitness. “Money is no longer a factor. It’s nice not to have that as a stressor,” the icon said of her impressive fortune, which includes five houses, a private jet, and a condo. Her children remain her priority, and she makes sure to “make their lives as comfortable” when she can. “It’s a dream,” she concluded. “This is a wonderful fantasy for me and for Jerry and for our family.”