En español | Maybe the worst part about missing a question on Jeopardy! was the way Alex Trebek delivered the correct answer, mildly scolding the contestant with a tone Trebek himself called “You've disappointed Daddy.” It was also, he admitted, one of “How can you not get this? This is not rocket science."
Trebek died Sunday at age 80. He had announced in March of 2019 that he had Stage IV pancreatic cancer.
The much-beloved quiz show host could come across as stuffy and professorial, but he also had a delightfully silly side. In 2005, he walked on stage to start a Tournament of Champions in a beguiling blazer and tie — and no pants.
"I was informed backstage a few minutes ago that our three contestants … wanted to relieve some of the tension, and they said, ‘We must do the program without trousers,'” he told the audience, and then asked for a shot of the contestants doing the same. Of course, the three male contenders — as surprised as everyone else — were properly clothed, and Trebek, poised and unruffled, exited to retrieve the remainder of his wardrobe.
Though his name was synonymous with Jeopardy!, given his more than 35 years on the job, he was actually the second host, taking over from Art Fleming when the show went into daily syndication in 1984. And from 1987 to 1991, he simultaneously hosted Jeopardy! and Classic Concentration. Previously, he had hosted The Wizard of Odds and another game show in his native Canada, where he grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, wanting to be a journalist. (He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998.)
Trebek was a natural from the beginning — winning the first of his six Emmy awards in 1989 — and garnering legions of fans. They took note of the comings and goings of his mustache (he shaved it off in 2001, and grew it back in 2014), and loved his stilted banter with contestants as they shared their autobiographical, and often awkward, backstories ("I dressed as broccoli").
When he first started dating his wife, Jean, whom he married in 1990 and with whom he had two children, Matthew and Emily, she was so nervous about his reputation as a brainiac that “I was afraid I'd mispronounce my own name!” Offstage, though, he was much more casual, liking to fix things around the house, from carpentry to electrical and even the sprinklers. ("If Dad can fix something, he will not have anyone else do it,” Emily said.) He really did know the answers to all those tough Jeopardy! questions, he joked, but only “because they're written on a sheet of paper in front of me.”
In 2011, Trebek boosted his image as a “regular guy” when he chased off a burglar who broke into his hotel room in San Francisco, but he tore his Achilles tendon in the pursuit. Through the years, he fought off far more serious threats such as mild heart attacks in 2007 and 2012, and in 2018, surgery to remove blood clots from his brain.
He was philosophic, then, in announcing his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019. “It was not devastating news to me,” he said. “Throughout my life, I've always wondered about how courageous a human being I was. I just look at it as [a] part of life.”
After his first round of chemotherapy, Trebek expressed optimism that he would beat the disease. But that September, he was back in treatment, something he shared with contestants just before taping.
"We were all hurting for him so badly,” contestant Dhruv Gaur later said on social media. And so when the Final Jeopardy question came up, Gaur simply wrote, “What is We love you, Alex!” That was one answer that all the viewing audience knew for sure.