Alex Trebek, whose erudite manner entertained and educated generations of viewers of the iconic quiz show “Jeopardy!” died Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 80 after a fierce and public battle with pancreatic cancer.
“Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex,” the game show’s official Twitter account announced.
Trebek hosted the syndicated half-hour trivia show since its revival in 1984, and continued taping episodes this year through his battle with the disease.
He announced in March 2019 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and was very public in discussing his illness and chemotherapy.
In July, Trebek said he was “doing well” and looked forward to returning to the show in September.
“I’ve been continuing my treatment and it is paying off, though it does fatigue me a great deal,” Trebek said in a video posted to the show’s official Twitter account. “My numbers are good. I’m feeling great.”
“I can’t wait to return to the studio and start recording shows for the new season in September,” Trebek said. “Meanwhile, my wish for all of you — stay safe.”
In connection with the start of the 37th season of “Jeopardy!” in syndication Sept. 14 following a premature end to its 36th because of the coronavirus pandemic, Trebek said, “I feel good and I feel excited because once again `Jeopardy!’ has demonstrated that it’s at the forefront of television programming.
“I believe we are the first quiz show to come back on the air in the COVID-19 era. On a personal level, I’m excited because it gets me out of the house. It gives me something to do on a regular basis and I was missing that.”
The 37th season includes what was billed as an upgraded set, the show’s first since 2013. The stage at the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City allowed for more space between the three contestants, with podiums set at a safe distance from Trebek at his lectern.
Reactions to Trebek’s death poured in immediately.
“Alex wasn’t just the best ever at what he did. He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I’m grateful for every minute I got to spend with him,” tweeted Ken Jennings, who holds the record for most games won on the show, winning 74 in a row in 2004.
Jennings also tweeted: “Thinking today about his family and his Jeopardy! family — which, in a way, included millions of us.”
Jennings became a consulting producer with “Jeopardy!” this season, presenting his own special video categories, developing projects, assisting with contestant outreach and serving as a general ambassador for the show.
James Holzhauer, who holds the record for all 15 of the show’s top single-day winnings records and won the 2019 Tournament of Champions, tweeted: “It was one of the great privileges of my life to spend time with this courageous man while he fought the battle of his life. You will never be replaced in our hearts, Alex.”
And Brad Rutter, the show’s money-winning record holder with $4,688,436, tweeted: “Just gutted. There will never be another. RIP, Alex, and thank you so much for everything.”
Rutter later tweeted: “Trebek was a broadcaster who’d done a lot of different things, but what made it work was it absolutely played to who he was: a deeply curious and worldly person with exacting standards. Lots of people can read the cards but you can’t fake that.”
Trebek’s death even drew a response from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“We’re saddened by the passing of legendary @Jeopardy host Alex Trebek. Earlier this year, he helped us recruit the next generation of astronauts — a testament to his dedication to challenging us to expand our knowledge,” NASA tweeted.
Robert Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company, issued a statement saying Trebek “graced us with his kindness, warmth, wit and pure elegance, which is why we welcomed him into our homes night after night, year after year. He also showed us what courage looks like as he battled cancer with dignity and determination. We are deeply saddened for his wife Jean, his family, and millions of Jeopardy! fans.”
“Jeopardy!” airs on many ABC stations, including KABC-TV Channel 7 in Los Angeles. The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC.
An hourlong special celebrating Trebek’s life and legacy will air at 10 p.m. Sunday on ABC.
“Alex Trebek, Remembered: A `20/20′ Special” will include interviews over the past year where Trebek spoke candidly about living with cancer, lessons he’s learned, what he hoped his last days would be like and how grateful he was that he had a chance to discover all the love his viewers held for him.
Trebek announced his cancer diagnosis in a YouTube video released March 6, 2019, saying he has a “longtime policy of being open and transparent” with fans of the show, and to prevent people “from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health.” He returned to work six days later on the Sony lot in Culver City where the show is taped.
“Just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” Trebek said in his initial announcement. “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,” he joked. “So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done.”
A native of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, Trebek began his career with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and hosted a number of music and game shows in Canada. He was tapped to host the revival of “Jeopardy!” in 1984. The show was already a known quantity from its previous incarnations under host Art Fleming from 1964-75 and again from 1978-79.
Trebek make the show his own, though, and quickly became a fan favorite. He was smooth and knowledgeable, and set a high bar for contestants, often gently scolding them for strategic blunders or not knowing an easy answer, yet always with grace.
“I’ve been very blessed to discover how many people our show has influenced in their lives and because of the power of our show, how I have become a factor in the lives of so many other people in that I’m in your home every day and I have been for 35 years,” Trebek said backstage at the 2019 Daytime Emmys.
“`Jeopardy!’ has become a special institution in Americana. It has been a force for good, a force for knowledge, a force for the best kind of reality television. Anybody can succeed. Anybody can win a lot of money.”
Trebek was a seven-time winner of the Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding game show host, including each of the past two years. He has been nominated four consecutive years and 28 times overall as host of “Jeopardy!” and three times as host of “Classic Concentration.”
Trebek also received a lifetime achievement Daytime Emmy in 2011.
Before “Jeopardy!” Trebek hosted versions of “The Wizard of Odds,” “Double Dare,” “High Rollers,” “Battlestars” and “To Tell the Truth.”
Trebek’s “Jeopardy!” broadcasts became a nightly ritual for millions of households across North America, and was a particular favorite with teachers. The show conducted annual college tournaments, and its occasional “Celebrity Jeopardy!” segments, where celebrities played for charity, were also popular.
The latter led to a well-known recurring sketch on “Saturday Night Live” in the early 2000s, in which Will Ferrell impersonated Trebek as the host was needled mercilessly by Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery. (In a coincidence, Connery died on Oct. 31.)
In 2014, Trebek set the record most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter with 6,829 episodes of “Jeopardy!,” breaking the previous record held by “The Price is Right” host Bob Barker, according to Guinness World Records.
He was also a noted philanthropist, traveling to several countries with the charitable group World Vision Canada, and donating 74 acres of open land in the Hollywood Hills to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in 1998.
Trebek is survived by his wife and three children, including his first wife’s daughter, whom he adopted.
“Jeopardy!” producers have made no announcements about plans for a new host. According to Variety, Trebek’s last day in the studio was Oct. 29, and episodes hosted by Trebek will air through Dec. 25.
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