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10 Things We Learned From Alex Trebek's New Memoir, 'The Answer Is...'

The 'Jeopardy!' host opens up about his life, love, career and cancer

spinner image alex trebek on the jeopardy game show set and the cover of his memoir titled the answer is
Walt Disney Television/Getty/Simon & Schuster

Alex Trebek had long thought about writing a memoir but dismissed the idea for years. “My life was not particularly exciting,” the beloved Jeopardy! host explains in the memoir he finally did write, the new The Answer Is … Reflections on My Life.

Trebek describes a life with plenty of excitement in his book, its release timed to his 80th birthday this week. But his story reads less like the typical name-dropping, vice-fueled celebrity memoir and more like one of a warmhearted, down-to-earth guy who feels lucky to have touched lots of lives as the host of a wildly popular quiz show for the past 36 years. He notes that he wants to be remembered “first of all as a good and loving husband and father, and also as a decent man who did his best to help people perform at their best."

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The fact that he's undergoing chemotherapy for his stage 4 pancreatic cancer, a painful experience that has taken a serious emotional and physical toll, adds a bittersweet and poignant note to his tale.

That said, Trebek, who has a great sense of humor, also offers a lighthearted look at many parts of his long life, including how he went from being an anchor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to host of NBC's The Wizard of Odds — that led to his most famous role: as host (not, he insists, “the star") of Jeopardy! And fans will eat up his memories of show legends such as Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer. (Chapters are in the form of Jeopardy!-style questions, as in “Who Is…James Holzhauer?)

Here's more of what we learned from The Answer Is… .

1. George Alexander Trebek was born in the small town of Sudbury, in Ontario, Canada, in “a little shack of a house just behind my grandparents’ home." Trebek reveals that he was delivered by his aunt Eunice, after his mother went through 36 hours of labor . ("She lived to be 95 and reminded me of this many times.")

2. His favorite movie is How Green Was My Valley. Trebek is drawn to stories about father-son relatioships, he writes, and this 1941 drama, about a family of Welsh coal miners, remains close to his heart. He was devoted to his loving dad, George Edward Terebeychuk — a “little Ukrainian immigrant” who came to Canada in the 1920s and promptly shortened his name. (His mom, Lucille, was French Canadian.)

3. In his teens, he almost got thrown out of a Catholic boarding school. Always a bit of a jokester, he became “unruly” — “a little bit of a s--- stirrer” — talking back to and harassing one priest in particular, around the time of his parents’ separation, “which caused me no end of grief.” His dad successfully begged the principal to let him stay.

4. In high school he liked subjects that started with the letter g. “Geography, geometry… girls.” But he majored in philosophy at the University of Ottawa — mostly because the classes were in the morning, allowing him to work as a radio host in the afternoon.

5. He's straitlaced. His drink of choice? Low-fat milk. And “occasionally I'll have a glass of chardonnay.” Trebek's one big drug experience was inadvertent: He ate a bunch of brownies at a Friday-night party in Malibu, California, not realizing they were full of hash. “The drugs knocked me out so much, I spent the weekend laid out in [the hosts'] guest bedroom and didn't leave their home until Monday morning. Talk about embarrassment.”

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6. His favorite animal is the musk ox. Why? Because when they are threatened (usually by wolves), “they form a circle with the calves and cows in the middle and all the males facing outward.” They're safe as long as they stand together, he writes. “That has always touched me at a gut level.” Protecting the musk ox is one of the dozens of charitable causes he supports.

7. The best day of his life was marrying his second wife, Jean, 30 years ago. When the minister asked if Trebek would take Jean to be his wife, he responded, “The answer is … Yes.” We're “one soul in two bodies,” he reveals. They have two children, Emily and Matthew.

8. He eats terrible breakfasts — or at least jokes that he does. “For years, my breakfast of choice was a Snickers and a Diet Coke. Then my doctor lectured me about changing that. So now it's a Kit Kat and a Diet Pepsi.”

9. He had tears in his eyes when Ken Jennings finally lost. They'd spent hours together over the 16 weeks that Jennings was on the show. At the end of his incredible 74-game winning streak, “I remember thinking, ‘Ken's gone. My buddy. My pal.’ “

10. He knows the end is near, but he's OK with it. “Each day brings a new set of challenges,” including pain and fatigue, he writes, but “I've lived a good, full life. … The only thing that might bother me is if I pass on before I get to have grandchildren. (Hint, hint.)"

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