Alex Trebek, the beloved host of Jeopardy, died on Sunday at 80 years old after a battle with pancreatic cancer. For millions of Americans, Trebek was the figurehead of a program who people have organized their weeks around since 1984. Sure, we might not have known most of the answers, but there was a consistency to the show that kept the audience coming back. Whether it be the distinctive timer or the premise of asking a trivia question to the contestants for monetary balance, the format of the show was always narrated by Trebek. His constant presence was beloved by all. According to the NY Times, “he was a no nonsense presence, efficient in his role and comforting in his orderliness”.
Trebek was born on July 22, 1940 in Ontario, Canada. He attended Jesuit schools and boarding school until enrolling in the University of Ottawa. His first job was for a Canadian music program, and he then proceeded to host a series of short-lived game shows until 1984 when he began to host Jeopardy. In 1974, he married Elaine Callei, went through a divorce, and then married Jean Currivan in 1990 who survives him with three children, Matthew, Emily, and Nicky.
On March 6, 2019, Trebek’s life changed drastically when he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Cancer is a mysterious disease, but being diagnosed with it or knowing someone with it can be some of the hardest news to bear. It’s a scary word, the “c-word,” that no one likes to say. It’s not exactly the topic of choice at most dinner tables. After showing no symptoms, he was diagnosed with a cancer that had already spread throughout his body. But being the amazing man that he was, Trebek continued to tape the show.
“After showing no symptoms, he was diagnosed with a cancer that had already spread throughout his body. But being the amazing man that he was, Trebek continued to tape the show. “
Although many celebrities conceal their illnesses, Trebek was very open about living with cancer. For many other people, seeing others who are going to through similar experiences as themselves, especially celebrities, is comforting. After revealing on live television that he was sick, ratings soared due to a contestant who was going to make a record win. During these tapings, Trebek would be in excruciating pain at times, but he managed to hold it together long enough to make it back to the dressing room to privately endure in the silent pain he struggled with. Even the chemo treatments were almost too much for him to bear, but he fought this fight for the people who loved him and continuously watched his weekly journey of more than 8000 episodes total.
As Trebek once said, “in this day and age, when there is so much societal tension, games shows are valuable because they’re pleasant”. Throughout his lifetime, he won an Emmy for outstanding game show host six times and a lifetime achievement award. All he did was ask a question and use his cards to determine if the answer was right or wrong. When I was younger, my grandmother only had the basic cable channels, so I distinctly remember nights at her house watching the show. And then, during the 2008 craze of the Wii console, my brother and I played the Jeopardy game on the Wii at her house. It was a simple game that intrigued eight-year-old me, but to this day, the satisfaction of knowing the answer to one of those random trivia questions is always a good feeling.
““in this day and age, when there is so much societal tension, games shows are valuable because they’re pleasant.”Alex Trebek, late “Jeopardy” star
Trebek was a legendary host, a true pop culture icon. Along the way, he hosted other game shows and appeared in a few movies and television programs. But towards the end, after the diagnosis, Trebek showed himself to be the powerful man he was by dressing up and going to work to host the show that Americans always tuned in to. And not allowing himself to surrender to this disease shows how he was a true fighter. Let me leave you with this thought from Sam Anderson… “he was the squarest possible existentialist hero: a man who holds the answer to every single trivia question, but not to the great final question of death”.