Game show host Alex Trebek has died at the age of 80.
The television personality, best-known as the long-tenured host of Jeopardy!, had been battling pancreatic cancer.
News of his passing was confirmed by the official Jeopardy! Twitter account, which stated: “‘Jeopardy!’ is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends.”
Trebek was born July 22, 1940 in Ontario, Canada. His television career began at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) where he hosted two quiz shows, Reach for the Top and Strategy, a music program called Music Hop, and also covered sporting events such as skating, curling and horse racing.
In the early ’70s, he came to the USA as the host of the game show The Wizard of Odds. He’d bounce through several other programs – including High Rollers, Double Dare, Battlestars and The $128,000 Question – before landing with Jeopardy! in 1984.
Though Trebek became synonymous with the classic answer-question game show, he was not its first host. Jeopardy! originally premiered in 1964 with Art Flemming at the helm, a position he held until the program’s cancellation in 1975. When show creator Merv Griffin decided to revive Jeopardy! in 1984, he initially offered Flemming the chance to return. The host declined, citing a disinterest in relocating to Los Angeles where the new Jeopardy! would be filmed. Fleming’s decision opened the door for Trebek, who’d take over the hosting reins for the next 36 years.
Class and charm were among the secrets to Trebek’s success. The host rarely raised his voice, but instead ruled over the quiz show with a cool and calm demeanor. As the man with all the answers, Trebek displayed an undeniable air of intelligence, yet it was his ability to mix in occasional moments of wit and humor that captured the attention of viewers.
Trebek became an unlikely pop-culture icon, making cameo appearances on such series as How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Beverly Hills 90210, The X-Files, The Larry Sanders Show and Orange is the New Black.
Will Ferrell famously impersonated Trebek on Saturday Night Live from 1996-2002 in Celebrity Jeopardy! sketches. In a 2017 interview with the New York Post, Trebek admitted he was flattered by the impression. “Absolutely,” the host responded when asked if he enjoyed the sketches. “If they’re spoofing you, poking fun at you or mentioning you it’s because you’re part of American pop culture, and that’s a good thing.”
In March 2019, Trebek announced he had been diagnosed with Stage Four pancreatic cancer. “Just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” he said in a video posted to the Jeopardy! You-Tube channel. “Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working.” At the time, the Trebek joked that he had to “beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease” because his contract with Jeopardy! insisted he host for three more years.
Trebek’s brave battle with cancer further endeared him in the hearts of many television viewers. Even while undergoing treatment, the host continued working. “It’s a quality program, and I think I do a good job hosting it,” Trebek remarked to the New York Times. “When I start slipping, I’ll stop hosting.”
On several occasions, contestants made their admiration for Trebek known. Memorably, in 2019, shortly after the host revealed his diagnosis, a contestant wrote “What is we love you Alex!” as his answer during Final Jeopardy, a message that choked up the usually even-keeled Trebek.
According to The Wrap, Trebek finished recording his final batch of Jeopardy! episodes on Oct. 29. The host’s final episode is scheduled to be broadcast on Christmas Day.
Fittingly, the last Jeopardy! episode to air before Trebek’s death featured a contestant emotionally admitting that watching the show helped him learn English. “This is a pretty special moment for me, man,” new champion Burt Thakur said while tearing up, revealing to Trebek the impact the host had on his life.
Though Trebek remained relatively private during his long television run, the host began opening up more in recent years. In July 2020, Trebek released his memoir, The Answer Is… Reflections on My Life. The book chronicled the host’s fascinating life, recounting his early years as a class clown, his brief stint in military college and even a humorous anecdote about eating too many hash brownies.
Trebek was honored with many awards over the course of his impressive career, including five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show Host and a Peabody Award for “encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge.” He also holds the Guinness World Record for the most gameshow episodes hosted by the same presenter. Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean, and his three children, Nicky, Matthew and Emily.