Alex Trebek, the legendary “Jeopardy” host, has died at the age of 80 on Sunday, November 8, in California after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a tweet from the show that reads, “Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex.”
Trebek was a game show staple, hosting more than a dozen other shows and specials over his nearly 60-year career. He returned to host the 37th season of “Jeopardy” earlier this year, despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s what you need to know about the late host’s life:
1. Trebek Grew Up in Ontario, Canada
Trebek was born July 22, 1940, to Lucille Trebek, a French-Canadian, and George Trebek, a Ukrainian immigrant who worked as a chef, according to his A&E biography.
“My dad drank pretty heavily, and he never missed a day of work in his life,” Trebek told A&E. “His basic philosophy was don’t throw out something because someday it’ll come in handy.”
At the age of 12, Trebek left Sudbury, Ontario, to attend a boarding school in Ottawa, at the University of Ottawa High School. He graduated in 1957, but continued his education there at the University of Ottawa, studying philosophy for four years before deciding to pursue a career in journalism.
After working for five years as a newscaster, he got the chance to host the Canadian quiz show “Reach for the Top,” and the rest is history.
2. Trebek Hosted a String of Game Shows Before ‘Jeopardy’
From 1966 until his stint on “Jeopardy” began in 1984, Trebek hosted a slew of Canadian and U.S. game shows: “Reach for the Top,” “Jackpot,” “The Wizard of Odds,” “High Rollers,” “The $128,000 Question,” and “Pitfall.”
In 1984, Merv Griffin and ABC tapped Trebek to host “Jeopardy” and that is what he did until his death. In nearly 40 years as the “Jeopardy” host, he was nominated for the Outstanding Game Show Host Daytime Emmy Award 28 times, winning the award six times (1989, 1990, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2019). He also received three nominations for the award for his time hosting “Classic Concentration” from 1988 to 1991. He was awarded the Daytime Emmy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
In a 2018 interview with Vulture, Trebek said the biggest key to hosting a game show is that you have to remember that you are not the star of the show.
“You have to set your ego aside. The stars of the show are the contestants and the game itself. That’s why I’ve always insisted that I be introduced as the host and not the star. And if you want to be a good host, you have to figure a way to get the contestants to — as in the old television commercial about the military — ‘be all you can be.’ Because if they do well, the show does well. And if the show does well, by association I do well,” said Trebek.
As for who will host after his time on the show was over, he said at the time that when people ask him who should replace him, he would always say, “The decision will be out of my hands … it’s a good show. It should, and will, go on after I’m done.”
3. Trebek Was Diagnosed With Cancer in March 2019
In March 2019, Trebek announced in a YouTube video that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. But he vowed to fight the cancer and continue to host “Jeopardy” as long as he could — he even cracked a joke about not being able to quit because he was contracted to host the show until 2022.
Hi everyone. I have some news to share with you and it’s in keeping with my longtime policy of being open and transparent with our ‘Jeopardy’ fanbase. I also wanted to prevent you from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health. So, therefore, I wanted to be the one to pass along this information. Now, just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week, I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Now, normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working and with the love and support of my family and friends and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.
Truth told, I have to because under the terms of my contract I have to host ‘Jeopardy’ for three more years. So help me, keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.
One year later, he gave an update on his prognosis. “I’d be lying,” he said, “if I said the journey was an easy one … there were moments of great pain, days when certain bodily functions no longer functioned, and sudden massive attacks of great depression that made me wonder if it really was worth fighting on. But I brushed that aside quickly because that would have been a massive betrayal.”
He said it would have betrayed his wife, his faith in God, the millions of prayers his fans were saying in his name, and the other cancer patients who were looking to him for inspiration.
“My oncologist tried to cheer me up the other day,” Trebek said. “He said, ‘You know Alex, even though the two-year survival rate is only 7%, he was certain that one year from now, the two of us would be sitting in his office, celebrating my second anniversary of survival.’ And you know something? If I — no, if we — because so many of us are involved in this same situation — if we take it just one day at a time, with a positive attitude, anything is possible. I’ll keep you posted.”
4. He Also Had 2 Heart Attacks & Brain Surgery
In addition to cancer, Trebek suffered two mild heart attacks over the years — the first in December 2007 and the second in June 2012. In both cases, he was back to work about a month later.
In October 2017, Trebek suffered a fall that later required him to have surgery to remove blood clots — known as a subdural hematoma — from his brain.
“Surgery was performed. After two days in the hospital, I came home to start recovery. The prognosis is excellent and I expect to be back in the studio to tape more ‘Jeopardy’ programs very, very soon. I want to thank all of you for your concern,” he said in a video posted to the “Jeopardy” YouTube page.
5. Trebek Is Survived by His Wife & 3 Children
In 1990, Trebek married Jean Currivan, to whom he remained married until his death. According to a 1990 People feature about their wedding, Trebek and Currivan met at a party in 1988. Currivan told People he made her “really nervous” at first, but she quickly realized that Trebek was “very down to earth” and “much more casual than he is on the show.”
The two were also very candid about their 24-year age difference — Trebek was 50 and Currivan was 26 when they got married.
“At first it worried me,” Trebek admitted at the time. “But then I thought, ‘The hell with it. We’ll make it work.’”
“I can understand why he was cautious about being with a younger woman,” said Currivan. “So I didn’t try to push him. We just took it one day at a time.”
The couple also found out three weeks after their wedding that they were expecting a baby. Trebek told People they wanted to have children, but they “didn’t think it would happen that quickly.”
Alex and Jean welcomed son Matthew in late 1990, who became a restaurateur in New York. Matthew’s younger sister, Emily, joined the family in 1993. She works in real estate.
Prior to his marriage to Currivan, Trebek was married to Elaine Callei from 1974-1981. In that time, Trebek adopted Callei’s daughter Nicky, who was 6 at the time they married. He remained close with her even after the split. In January 2020, she posted a photo of herself, Alex, and Emily to Instagram simply captioned, “#girldad.”