“Words can’t even describe what a tremendous loss this is for our Jeopardy! family,” Steve LoCascio, President of CBS Television Distribution, tells ET in a statement. “Not only was Alex a television icon, but he was one of the most genuine, kind, caring people you could ever know. The way he openly and bravely battled cancer, while continuing to host the show, was a true inspiration. He has brought joy to the millions of fans – including generations of families — who have welcomed Alex into their living room each night. Our hearts go out to Alex’s wife and children. We have truly lost a legend.”
In July 2020, Trebek admitted that if the immunotherapy treatment that he underwent failed, he would not take “extraordinary measures” to ensure survival.
Trebek announced his cancer diagnosis in March 2019, and despite the bleak prognosis, he joked that he had to beat the disease because he was still under contract with Jeopardy!. Proving that he wouldn’t let the cancer slow him down, Trebek returned to taping the show a week after revealing his health predicament.
Despite admitting to “surges of deep sadness” as a result of his cancer treatment, Trebek never lost his infamous wit. Upon winning a daytime Emmy award for Outstanding Game Show Host in May 2019, Trebek joked that the award was the result of “sympathy” votes.
“I’m aware that there must be a fair amount of sympathy that went into the voting for this, but to tell you the truth, I don’t care,” Trebek told ET’s Deidre Behar with a laugh. “I got the award, and I enjoy having this award.”
Weeks after his big Emmy win, Trebek revealed that he was “near remission” according to his doctors, and responding incredibly well to cancer treatment.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” Trebek shared with People. “The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory… some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”
The veteran game show host was born on July 22, 1940 in Sudbury, Canada to immigrant parents. His father, George, battled alcoholism but instilled a strong work-ethic as Trebek once told Esquire, “My dad drank pretty heavily, and he never missed a day of work in his life.”
Trebek landed his first broadcasting job in 1961, working part-time job at the Canadian Broadcasting Company, while finishing up his philosophy degree at the University of Ottawa. His first hosting job was on the Canadian series Music Hop, followed by the high school quiz show, Reach for the Top. Trebek went on to introduce musical acts for CBC from 1967 until 1970.
He made the leap to American television in 1973, as host of the NBC game show Wizard of Odds. He also hosted the short-lived game shows High Rollers and CBS’ Double Dare, while simultaneously helming the Canadian game show, 128 Questions.
In the 1980s, Trebek hosted the short-lived game shows Battlestars,High Rollers and Pitfall, the latter of which was a Canadian program that forced him to commute from the U.S. The jobs didn’t last very long but they steered Trebek in the direction of what would become his big break shooting a pilot for fellow host-turned-media mogul Merv Griffin’s new game show, Jeopardy!, which got picked up 1984.
While hosting Jeopardy!, Trebek took on another gig as the host of Classic Concentration until the show’s cancellation in 1991. He made history as the only game show host to helm three shows at the same time after taking over To Tell the Truth for the final three months of the show, which also ended in 1991 (Trebek returned as a guest on the show’s reboot in 2018).
Trebek branched out to other game shows and television programs throughout his more than 60-year career. He guest hosted Wheel of Fortune, and became one of the many hosts of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, from 1994 until 1998. He also made several appearances as himself on a number of shows including How I Met Your Mother, The Colbert Report, The Simpsons, Beverly Hills, 90210, The Nanny and Orange is the New Black.
Trebek was married twice. His first marriage was to Elaine Callei, but the couple split in the early ’80s after seven years of marriage. In 1990, Trebek wed Jean Currivan, with whom he welcomed two children, Matthew and Emily. The couple remained together until Trebek’s death.
The esteemed TV personality experienced multiple health scares towards the end of his life. He suffered two minor heart attacks in 2007 and 2012, and in 2018, Trebek underwent surgery to remove blood clots from his brain brought on by a contusion that he suffered after a fall. He was also tested for Alzheimer’s Disease in 2018, following a memory lapse.
No matter his medical issues, Trebek appeared to keep his sense of humor in tact. Following his 2018 induction into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame, he joked about the timing of the honor.
“The fact that it’s coming near the end of my career makes it especially significant,” he explained to Ad Week at the time. “It wouldn’t have done to receive this kind of recognition at the beginning of my career. I’d have developed a very swelled head, bigger than it is now.”
In an interview with Vulture, Trebek opened up about Jeopardy’s impact on his life. “It has provided me with opportunities to explore the world geographically, socially, and philanthropically. Doing that has allowed me to develop as a human,” said Trebek, before sharing how he envisioned his final show.
“I will tell the director, ‘Time the show so that I have 30 seconds at the end.’ Because when [Jeopardy! contestant] Ken Jennings lost after 74 wins in a row, I had a tear in my eye and no time for a good-bye. So all I want on my last show is 30 seconds, and I’ll do what Johnny Carson did: ‘Hey, folks, thank you. Been a good run and all good things must come to an end.’ Then I’ll move on.”
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