My daughter came up to the office yesterday and said, “Why didn’t you tell me about Alex?” A minute later, I got the sad, but not unexpected news from a Los Angeles Times newsflash that Alex Trebek had died.
In March 2019, Trebek told JEOPARDY! fans that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It is a nasty disease that killed three people I knew in real life in 2019, as well as astronaut Sally Ride and QoS Aretha Franklin.
Alex Trebek kept up his hosting, and his humor, wisdom, and grace did not seem to diminish. If anything, he was more forthcoming, such as when he asked fans to guess when he needed a toupee after his treatments.
He was born George Alexander Trebek in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada on July 22, 1940, After growing up in a bilingual household, he earned a degree in philosophy at the University of Ottawa. He did various jobs with the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), before moving to the United States in 1973.
I first noticed Trebek hosting a variety of game shows, most notably High Rollers, before taking over JEOPARDY! in 1984. Having seen the first two episodes recently, it took a little time before he honed the persona that has suited him so well for over 8,000 episodes in 37 seasons.
As I’ve noted several times on this blog, I appeared on JEOPARDY! on November 9 and 10, 1998. It was filmed in Boston. I mentioned that most recently here.
Trebek held the Guinness World Record for the most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter on the same program since June 13, 2014. He overtook Bob Barker of The Price is Right. He also hosted the National Geographic Bee for 25 years, until 2013.
Trebek has won five Daytime Emmy Awards for outstanding game show host. In 2011, he received a Peabody Award for “encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge,” and a lifetime achievement award from the folks who present the Daytime Emmys.
But beyond his hosting, Trebek became a cultural icon. He had appeared in dozens of television shows and movies, usually as himself or a variation thereof. The What is… Cliff Clavin? episode of Cheers in 1990 was one of the first of many. His star is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, near those of Ann-Margret and Vincent Price. Trebek was the familiar spokesperson for Colonial Penn Life Insurance.
Alex Trebek participated in 13 USO tours. He “traveled to many developing countries in support of World Vision, reporting on the organization’s efforts on behalf of children. He adopted a village in Zambia, Africa, helping to build a school, homes for teachers, and a medical facility.”
He spoke of writing his memoir, The Answer Is… which was released on July 21, 2020. “The longer I’ve lived with the cancer, the more my definition of toughness has changed. I used to think not crying meant you were tough. Now I think crying means you’re tough. It means you’re strong enough to be honest and vulnerable. It means you’re not pretending.”
Check out soon a video reel, which will expire 1/1/2021.
When he married Jean Trebek (Jean Currivan), at the ceremony he gave his wedding vow as a joke on the Jeopardy! rule of phrasing an answer as a question by saying, “The answer is … yes”. He taped his last shows on October 29, 2020. He died at home, surrounded by Jean, and their two adult children, Emily and Matthew, and other family and friends. Here’s a brief obit.
JEOPARDY! episodes hosted by Trebek will air through December 25, 2020. The show is not announcing plans for a new host at this time.