A retired university philosophy professor who was, at one time, one of the most famous children in the United States but was frustrated and torn by his fame, has died of the coronavirus.
The family of Joel Kupperman said Wednesday he died last month at a nursing home in Brooklyn at 83. He had been suffering from dementia for several years.
From age 6 to 16, Chicago-born Kupperman was a regular panelist on “The Quiz Kids,” a radio game show in which a team of extraordinarily bright youngsters answered complex questions sent in by listeners.
The audience won a prize if they stumped the panel and the kids were awarded savings bonds if they answered the difficult questions.
The kids were dressed in robes and mortar boards. Kupperman spoke with a lisp and smiled brightly when reciting obscure facts and complicated mathematical equations, endearing him to the audience.
He and the rest of the kids became major radio personalities, hobnobbing with movie stars and politicians and appearing in films and on radio comedy shows. Kupperman was even invited to address the United Nations.
But when the show moved to television, Kupperman was no longer a cute little boy but a gangly and somewhat annoying teenager who was overshadowed by the younger panelists.
He left the show when he was 16, entered the University of Chicago and was the target of bullies. Feeling as if he had been exploited, he refused to ever talk about “The Quiz Kids” and warned his family against ever asking him about it.
Kupperman later earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Cambridge in England and taught at the University of Connecticut for 50 years. He wrote several books.
In one of the rare moments when he did talk about his past, Kupperman told The New York Times that “being a bright child among your peers was not the best way to grow up in America.”
“There’s this weird notion that intelligence is a single thing, but people can be smart in some ways and stupid in others,” he once told his son.
The New York Times reported that he is survived by his wife, Karen; son Michael; daughter Charlie; his sister, Harriet Moss, and a grandson.