‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek dies at 80
Canadian-born host was known for his dapper charm and touch of schoolmaster strictness
Alex Trebek, who presided over the much-loved quiz show Jeopardy! for more than three decades, has died aged 80.
Trebek, who revealed in 2019 that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, died at his Los Angeles home, surrounded by family and friends, said Jeopardy! studio Sony.
The Canadian-born host, known for his dapper charm and a touch of schoolmaster strictness, spoke in a calm, even tone as he revealed his illness and hope for a cure in a video posted in March last year.
Trebek said he was joining the 50,000 other Americans who receive such diagnoses each year and that he recognised his prognosis was not encouraging.
Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him
But he said he intended to fight it and keep working, joking that he needed to beat the disease because his Jeopardy! contract ran for three more years.
Less than a week later, he opened the show with a message acknowledging the outpouring of kind words and prayers he had received.
“Thanks to the, believe it or not, hundreds of thousands of people who have sent in tweets, texts, emails, cards and letters wishing me well,” Trebek said. “I’m a lucky guy.”
Tributes poured in from former contestants and the wider public quickly after his death was announced.
“Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him,” Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings tweeted.
“Thinking today about his family and his Jeopardy! family — which, in a way, included millions of us.”
“America’s favourite quiz show”, as it calls itself, captivated the public with a unique format in which contestants were told the answers and had to provide the questions on a variety of subjects, including movies, politics, history and popular culture.
Trebek, who became its host in 1984, engaged in friendly banter with contestants, appearing genuinely pleased when they answered correctly but moving the game along in a brisk, no-nonsense fashion whenever people struggled for answers.
He never pretended to know the answers if he didn’t, deferring to the show’s experts to decide whether a vague answer had come close enough to be counted as correct.
“I try not to take myself too seriously,” Trebek said in 2004. “I don’t want to come off as pompous and indicate that I know everything when I don’t.”
He started his game show career on Reach for the Top in Canada.
Moving to the US in 1973, he appeared on The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers, The $128,000 Question and Double Dare.
Even during his run on Jeopardy!, Trebek worked on other shows. In the early 1990s, he was also the host of To Tell the Truth and Classic Concentration.
But it was Jeopardy! that made him famous. He won five Emmys as its host, and received stars on the Hollywood and Canadian walks of fame. In 2012, the show won a prestigious Peabody Award.
Trebek was known for his prolific work rate, recording as many as 10 episodes in just two days.
After what was described as a mild heart attack in 2007, he was back at work in only a month.
Trebek posted a video in January 2018 announcing that he had undergone surgery for blood clots in the brain after a fall. The show was on hiatus during his recovery.
It had yet to bring in a substitute host for Trebek, except for once, when he and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak swapped their TV jobs as an April Fool's prank.
In 2012, Trebek acknowledged that he was considering retirement, but had been urged by friends to stay on so he could reach 30 years on the show. He said he still loved the job.
“What’s not to love? You have the security of a familiar environment, a familiar format, but you have the excitement of new clues and new contestants on every programme," Trebek said. "You can’t beat that!”
Although many viewers considered him one of the main reasons for the show’s success, Trebek insisted he was only there to keep things moving.
“I’m introduced as the host of Jeopardy!, not the star,” he said in 2012.
“My job is to provide the atmosphere and assistance to the contestants to get them to perform at their very best.
“And if I’m successful doing that, I will be perceived as a nice guy and the audience will think of me as being a bit of a star.”
“But not if I try to steal the limelight! The stars of Jeopardy! are the material and the contestants."
Born July 22, 1940, in Sudbury, Ontario, Trebek was sent to boarding school by his Ukrainian father and French-Canadian mother when he was barely in his teens.
After graduating high school, he spent a summer in Cincinnati to be close to a girlfriend, then returned to Canada to attend university.
After earning a philosophy degree from the University of Ottawa, he went to work for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, starting as a staff announcer and eventually becoming a radio and TV reporter.
He became a US citizen in 1997. Trebek’s first marriage, to Elaine Callei, ended in divorce.
In 1990 he married Jean Currivan, and they had two children, Emily and Matthew.
Trebek lived with his family in Los Angeles’s Studio City section, not far from Hollywood.
Updated: November 9, 2020 06:32 PM