Alex Trebek: Legendary Jeopardy! Host Dies at 80


Alex Trebek

Gia Shin, Staff Writer

Sportscaster Stuart Scott once said at an ESPY Awards event, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” He was talking about himself, but his words also seem to describe Alex Trebek, the long time ‘Jeopardy!’ host and trivia master, who died on Sunday, November 8th, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old. Trebek is survived by his wife, Jean Currivan, and three children, Mathew, Emily, and Nicky.

Jeopardy! is a popular television American game show in which answers to trivia questions are delivered in question form. The show had been canceled in the early 1970s when Trebek first arrived in Hollywood. He was asked to host Jeopardy! in 1984 when it was revived once more. Trebek was a natural at his work: he boosted the show’s rankings, securing its position as the top-rated quiz show in the U.S. for fourteen years. He became such a legendary figure that “he was parodied by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, played himself on dozens of television shows, and was used as a narrative device on television hits such as Seinfeld,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. Even his theme music became an instantly recognizable jingle that signaled, “Hurry up, time’s ticking.” Television star Alex Trebek set a Guinness World Record for hosting over 8,000 episodes in 37 years.

Trebek suffered a series of health complications in recent years. He had a heart attack in 2007, brain surgery for blood clots after hitting his head from a fall in 2018, and was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2019. He even chased after a burglar and tore his Achilles tendon, yet still showed up to host the National Geographic Bee the next day in a cast and crutches. His cancer diagnosis was announced in a YouTube video, where Trebek jokingly said that he had to beat his disease because there were still three years left in his contract. It was clear that he was determined to beat the odds of the disease’s low survival rate.

Known for his transparency and candidness towards his audience, Trebek opened up about his fears that followed the excruciating pain of chemotherapy. Fans of the show were extremely supportive through his pain, from holding up encouraging signs during taping sessions to lining up in front of his studio just to cheer as he entered. Contestants also donated money earned from the show towards pancreatic cancer research. One contestant, stumped in the Final Jeopardy round, wrote “What is ‘We love you, Alex!’” on his board. Trebek grew emotional and tried to choke back tears as he read the response out loud. 

Jeopardy! Executive Producer Mike Richards said that he had chills the entire day taping Trebek’s last episode. Though he didn’t know that it would be the last, he could tell that the beloved host was in pain. He had surgery just two weeks beforehand and was already back at work. “That first show of that final week, he [gave] a speech about togetherness, how important family [was],” Richards told CNN. “It was so beautiful that we were all emotional, we were all in tears… it was one of those days [where he was] at the top of his game even though clearly, he was very ill.”

Despite his adversities, Trebek continued to work hard and never retired out of his pure love for Jeopardy!. He was a comfortable fit with his audiences: he was fatherly, driven, and dependable. In a Reader’s Digest poll, he was ranked the eighth most-trusted person in America, right behind Bill Gates and 63 spots above Warren Buffett. Trebek lived a long and fulfilling life with abounding achievements. He planted seeds of hope in millions of children and adults, helping them realize that the world had so much more to offer. As of now, there are no plans to replace Trebek’s position as a game host.

And now, I’ll take “International Treasures” for $2,000.