Remembering Alex Trebek

‘Jeopardy!’ host passes away at 80, leaving a lasting legacy in the cultural landscape of television 

Alex Trebek.
Photo: 
On Nov. 8, beloved Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek passed away after a battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Trebek, age 80, hosted the long-running quiz show for 37 years, presenting a record-breaking 8,200 episodes. 
 
Trebek announced his diagnosis in March of 2019 in a video message posted on the social media page of Jeopardy!. In his steady, collected manner, he addressed his audience directly from the set of the show, noting with humour that he would continue hosting—as he was contractually obligated until the year 2022. 
 
In a tweet shared by the Jeopardy! account, Executive Producer Mike Richards said Trebek had taped shows up until two weeks before his passing, which are set to air through to Dec. 25 with a special recorded message by Trebek to play on the final episode. 
 
Amid speculation, the show has not stated whether a new host will be announced in the near future. 
 
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, and an alumnus of the University of Ottawa, Trebek rose to notability following a stint at the CBC during his college years. He hosted an impressive number of shows including Music Hop, Reach for the Top, The Wizard of Odds, Double Dare, and The $128,000 Question
 
In 1985, Trebek began his steady position at the helm of the Jeopardy! revival. In the era of flashy, tech-based reality television and overproduced dramas, Jeopardy! has been a comforting constant, quietly playing in the background of living rooms across Canada and the US. 
 
The show garnered 35 Emmy Awards, a Lifetime Achievement award for Trebek, as well as a Peabody in 2011—the first time in 50 years a quiz show has been honoured as a “model of integrity and decorum.” 
 
Outliers presented themselves over the nearly 40-year runtime, including the record-breaking $2.5 million earnings over 74 straight wins by Ken Jennings in 2004, rivalled only by the rise of James Holzhauer in the spring 
of 2019.
 
"Alex wasn't just the best ever at what he did," Jennings wrote in a statement on Twitter. "He was also a lovely and deeply decent man, and I'm grateful for every minute I got to spend with him."
 
The loss of this cultural icon cannot be overerstated. Beneath the statement of his passing on Twitter, thousands of condolences poured in from fans around the world, sharing countless anecdotes and thanking Trebek for childhood memories of viewing the show with family. 
 
Contestants found small ways to show their support of Trebek over the months following his diagnosis, with contestant Dhruv Gaur betting $1,995 of his $2,000 on a heartfelt Final Jeopardy answer reading “We love you Alex” in November 2019. 
 
For 35 years, Trebek remained a reliable, even-tempered host, change presenting itself only through the passage of time as his hair turned from black to grey. Taping multiple shows a day, Trebek took moments during commercial breaks to converse with audience members, and despite the rigid, rigorous formatting of the show, he found time to gently scold contestants for incorrect answers, rap lyrics of hip hop icons in his careful diction, and fire the occasional, light-hearted zinger at the nerdiest participants. 
 
Trebek built a lasting legacy on the principles of equal opportunity, intelligence, and the unprecedented notion that possessing obscure, wide-reaching knowledge is the truest form of cool. 
 
In 2019, Sam Anderson wrote in The New York Times, “Despite the diagnosis, Alex Trebek continued to work, to put on his suits and read his clues.”  
 
“It was a dignified refusal to surrender to doom,” he added. “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—and yet he keeps showing up anyway, reading his clues, giving us every last answer he can.”
 

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.