Iconic Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek succumbed to pancreatic cancer on Sunday, Nov. 8, at the age of 80. The host, who had been the face of the syndicated game show since 1984, worked until almost the very end, taping his last shows on Oct. 29. Those final episodes will air through Christmas Day.
“It feels very sudden to all of us,” Mike Richards, executive producer of Jeopardy!, said. “The hardest part of all of this is that we knew he was battling, we knew he was getting chemo, we knew he was in pain. When the light turned on and [show announcer] Johnny Gilbert said his name, he transformed into a healthy, charming, good-looking man who was capable of running the show at the highest levels.
“If I understood how he did that, I would have all the keys to all the secrets in the world. He had a switch he was able to throw that was rooted somewhere in his immense work ethic. He was never going to turn in a bad performance, ever.”
Trebek was diagnosed in March 2019, and he quickly made that public via a video in which he vowed to fight the disease. From that point on, fans all over the world were rooting for him, and he often released updates, either through videos or interviews on news programs such as Good Morning America. In July 2020, he also released a memoir, The Answer Is … Reflections on My Life.
Until the end, Richards said, Trebek would still come into the studio and hang out with the writers, reviewing and tweaking questions before that day’s tapings.
“Alex is a huge part of what makes Jeopardy! great, and that’s what he loved, he loved the game,” Richards said. “He stayed because he loved the game. He loved being around smart people, he reveled in a great game, he reveled in amazingly quick answers. He loved being with the writers and researchers and going over the clues in the morning. Those were amazing sessions we all got to do with him.”
Past Winners Pay Tribute
Upon hearing the news, tweets and tributes started pouring out, including from Jeopardy!’s official Greatest of All Time (GOAT) Ken Jennings and from the man who changed how the game was played, professional gambler James Holzhauer.
“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 Jennings, who now serves as a consulting producer on the show after winning ABC’s primetime Jeopardy! GOAT tournament last January.
Similarly, Holzhauer, who drove Jeopardy! to new ratings highs with his daring play style during his 32-game streak in spring 2019, 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.”
Also chiming in with their respects were such celebrities as Ryan Reynolds, John Legend, Padma Lakshmi and Viola Davis; fellow syndicated hosts Dr. Phil McGraw, Steve Harvey and Ryan Seacrest; and trivia nerds all over the world. Jeopardy! — along with its sibling game show, Wheel of Fortune — airs in access on the Disney-ABC owned TV stations in the country’s top markets, including on WABC New York, KABC Los Angeles and WLS Chicago.
Said The Walt Disney Co. executive chairman Bob Iger: “Today we mourn the loss of Alex Trebek. A friend, a colleague, an icon…He 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.”
In the wake of Trebek’s death, Richards is unwilling to discuss what might be next for the show, but it’s been on a run over the past couple of years, with such events as Holzhauer’s historic run and ABC’s primetime GOAT tournament.
“It’s really early for me and the Jeopardy! staff and crew to turn that page today. Jeopardy! has a very bright future and eventually we will turn the page and that’s what Alex would have wanted,” said Richards, who oversaw the transition from Bob Barker to Drew Carey at CBS’ daytime staple The Price is Right.
In terms of successors to Trebek, Jennings has been reported to be in the running to take over hosting duties. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos also reportedly threw his hat in the ring, with other names mentioned including popular podcaster Joe Rogan, Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s LeVar Burton and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.
Trebek hosted Jeopardy! since it made its syndicated debut in 1984, taking the show through nearly 37 seasons and setting a Guinness World Record for hosting the most episodes of a single game show. He won the Daytime Emmy for outstanding game-show host seven times and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award (along with Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak) from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011. He and the show also won a Peabody Award that year. (The show in its original incarnation on network daytime ran on NBC from 1964 to 1974 with Art Fleming as the host.)
In 2013, he was inducted into the Broadcasting+Cable Hall of Fame. He and Jeopardy! were both inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2018.
Trebek was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and hosted numerous game shows before becoming the host of Jeopardy! He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Jean, and children Matthew, Emily and Nicky.
Said Richards: “I think he knows his legacy was secure and that he was great at the greatest quiz show. That’s how I think he wanted to be remembered.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.