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The toughest DWTS judge has died, remembered for ‘adorable’ ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom’

The toughest DWTS judge has died, remembered for ‘adorable’ ‘wit’ and ‘wisdom’
Len Goodman takes his final bow on Dancing with the Stars 31's finale on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 (Photo by Disney+)

Len Goodman, who judged Dancing with the Stars for nearly its entire life, retired from the American version of the dance competition at the end of its 31st season last fall.

“I’ve been on the show since it started in 2005, and it has been a huge pleasure to be a part of such a wonderful show, but I’ve decided I want to spend more time with my grandchildren and family back in Britain,” he said.

That time has been cut short, as Len died Saturday at age 78. He had bone cancer, according to BBC News. He was treated for prostate cancer in 2008.

Len Goodman’s (nearly) 20 years of judging reality TV

A portrait of a person wearing a black tuxedo with bowtie
Len Goodman during his final Dancing with the Stars 31 episode on Monday, Nov. 21, 2022 (Photo by Eric McCandless/ABC)

Len started as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing in 2004, judging that version for its first 14 seasons, alongside Bruno Tonioli, who joined Len for the ABC version.

Bruno remembered Len on Instagram, calling Len “my dear friend and partner for 19 years the one and only ballroom legend,” and added, “I will treasure the memory of our incredible adventures and hundreds of shows we did together.”

Former DWTS host Tom Bergeron shared a collage of photos with Len, captioning it “A Good Man, indeed”.

Fellow judge Carrie Ann Inaba shared a video and wrote, in part, “A Dancer. A teacher. A refined gentleman. A wonderful storyteller. A special soul. A mentor. A family man. And… A treasured friend. Saying goodbye at the end of last season broke my heart. But today’s news has shattered it all over again. I can’t believe that you’re gone.”

She added, “Thank you for all that you shared with us. Your humor, your wisdom, your wit and your truth.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger tweeted, “Rest in peace, Len Goodman: a special soul and a true gentleman.”

Strictly host Claudia Winkleman, who also hosts the UK version of The Traitors, told BBC News, “There was nobody like him because he was so humble. He was adorable—on camera, off camera, and to everybody who took part.”

He was also super-cranky, but also exacting, demanding proper technique from celebrities who sometimes have to be dragged around the ballroom floor by their professional partners.

Dancing with the Stars Len Goodman leaving
Head judge Len Goodman won’t return for Dancing with the Stars’ 21st season. (Photo by Adam Taylor/ABC)

Unlike, say, Simon Cowell, however, Len’s harshness was not cruel or mean-spirited, but focused on technique and standards.

In 2013, Cary O’Dell wrote in PopMatters that Len Goodman:

[…] especially deserves credit for standing his ground and fighting the good fight in terms of trying to bring actual excellent dancing to the airwaves. From his central seat on the panel in the “ballroom,” his harsh assessments are met every single week, every single time, with a panoply of collective “boos” from the audience

[…]

The judiciousness (pun intended) with which Goodman hands out compliments and offers up his seldom-seen “10” paddle adds an ongoing element of suspense and intrigue to the show, certainly not the worst thing to have in a multi-week reality competition.

I certainly mocked his crankiness over the years, or at least back when I was still watching Dancing with the Stars.

For example, during season 13, when Len and Maxs disagreed (Len: “I’ve been in this business for 50 years”; Maks: “maybe it’s time to get out”), I wrote that Len’s “Depends are usually bunched up and causing him excess irritation.”

But as a TV critic who tries to take reality TV seriously, maybe I should have had more respect for him holding a silly celebrity dance competition to high standards.

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Happy discussing!

Laura

Monday 24th of April 2023

As a reality TV junkie from the beginning, I caught Strictly in London in 2005/2006. I found Len's judging to br fair and he never failed to teach me something. At a time when Simon Cowells bracing critiques were in vogue, Len provided fair assessments with dignity and class.