From 1984 right up to the month before his death on November 8, 2020, Alex Trebek, full name George Alexander Trebek, hosted Jeopardy! The award-winning host appeared in over 8,000 episodes, taping five per day, including some appearing posthumously.
Since 2014, Alex Trebek held the Guinness World Record for most game shows hosted by the same presenter. He loved doing the show and never tired of it right to the end.
He was 80-years-old and battled pancreatic cancer, which he first publicly announced on March 6, 2019. Soon after, the cancer went into remission, and he returned to tape the 35th season. Unfortunately, aggressive cancer suddenly came back.
Nevertheless, he continued to tape introductions for 20 Jeopardy introductions, even while in considerable pain.
Hosting the Show Gave Him Strength
While filming, Trebek said he gained strength.
“Oddly enough, when we started taping, I suddenly started to regain my strength,” he said in a phone interview a couple of days later. “It’s the strangest thing. It is some kind of an elixir.”
As he went about hosting, he resolved to maintain the quality of the show.
“It’s a quality program, and I think I do a good job hosting it, and when I start slipping, I’ll stop hosting,” he said.
Judging by a recent contestant, Cliff Chang, Trebek did just that. Appearing on the final show Trebek hosted, Chang says the host was a “consummate professional.”
Appearing on the show had been an “exhilarating train ride.” The Chicago Tribune reports that Chang praised Trebek for “normalizing being cool for knowing stuff, in a way that not a lot of other people did.”
Proudest Moment on the Show?
Trebek once responded when asked if he had a “proudest moment” on the show in a moment of humor. “We’ve done over 7,500 shows, and I don’t even remember the ones we did yesterday.” For Trebek, ensuring every show was of the highest quality and accuracy was equally important.
Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean Currivan Trebek, and two children, Emily and Matthew Trebek. His quick wit, dry humor, and intellect made him a favorite for millions. Over the years, Jeopardy! became iconic, with its unique phrasing in the form of a question often parodied.
Moving to the Next Level
Trebek showed astonishing bravery as he faced his final days. The Times reported how he spoke to his wife about moving to the “next level,” almost like he was advancing on the game show.
“Yesterday morning my wife came to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I want to die.’ It was that bad,” he said. “There comes a time where you have to make a decision as to whether you want to continue with such a low quality of life, or whether you want to just ease yourself into the next level. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
He bravely moved on to the next level, advocating for helping those suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic in a posthumous message.
A Champion of Facts
At a time when our culture faces a war on facts, Trebek was the champion of them. He found adhering to facts comforting and believe the show was a positive force for learning.
“There’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing a fact,” Trebek said. “The sun is up in the sky. There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change that. You can’t say, ‘The sun’s not up there, there’s no sky.’ There is reality, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting reality. It’s when you try to distort reality, to maneuver it into accommodating your particular point of view, your particular bigotry, your particular whatever — that’s when you run into problems.”
When asked why people loved the show so much, he said it was due to its longstanding emphasis on the positive.
“Jeopardy! is beloved because it has lasted so long. Viewers relate positively to Jeopardy! because there are no great negatives about our program. We try to emphasize the positive [and] favor learning. We want you and the contestants to demonstrate that knowledge is not only important, but it’s valuable in every aspect of your life. So, we reinforce the postives, and you can’t go wrong with that.”
Watch the real Trebek behind the scenes from Business Insider:
The Wiley Wizard of Odds
A Canadian, Trebek got his American game show start on the 1970 game show, “The Wizard of Odds.” Another Canadian, actor Alan Thicke was developing the show and called on Trebek. In 1973, Trebek got the job and moved to California. He remained employed in a string of game shows for the next 50 years.
On the show, the announcer referred to him as “The Wiley Wizard of Odds.” From there, he appeared on many other game shows, including:
- Double Dare
- Classic Concentration
- The $128,000 Question
- The New Battlestars
- High Rollers
- To Tell the Truth
At one point, Trebek hosted three shows simultaneously: Jeopardy!, Concentration, and To Tell the Truth.
In a pilot for a show called Malcolm, Trebek played second banana to a strange animated cartoon video puppet.
See some of the shows Trebek hosted in the video from YouTube:
A Romantic at Heart
Although Trebek was often somewhat stoic as host of the fast-paced Jeopardy!, behind the scenes, that wasn’t the case. For example, he described the day he proposed to his second wife, Jean Currivan Trebek. It was in the late 1980s when he met her at a party and proposed within months.
“I had visited Thailand, and I purchased a sapphire and diamond ring…I invited my future wife over to my house for dinner.
“This is a souvenir from Bangkok, Thailand,’ and she looked at it, and there was the ring. I didn’t say a word. She ran from the room in tears. We are a crying family. I cry at the opening of a door,” he said.
Jean Currivan Trebek supported her husband throughout his ordeal with cancer, uplifting him whenever possible.
What is Self-Deprecating Humor, Alex?
Often, Trebek had a dry sense of humor, but he enjoyed poking fun at himself. For example, he appeared on Saturday Night Live with hilarious impersonator Will Ferrell.
“Never be afraid of poking fun at yourself. Self-deprecating humor is worth its weight in gold,” Trebek said.
Alex Trebek’s Legacy of Laughs
When asked what he wanted his legacy to be, he said:
“Nice man, helped people through his charity work, was kind to everybody he encountered. Enjoy life. Make somebody laugh. I believe laughter is one of the greatest cures that we can possibly have. It’s right up there with prayer, believe me,” he said.
For an example of his off-screen humor, when asked what advice he would give to his 20-year-old self, Trebek paused and said, “Try to meet Ava Gardner if you can,” with a smile.
In another moment, he said his favorite part of the show was spending a half-hour on stage with “three very bright people” because “I don’t like spending time with stupid people, so I have very few friends.”
We will all miss Alex Trebek, a champion of facts and humor. What an amazing life as we enter a new year, embracing his example of valuing facts and wisdom.
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Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube/Business Insider