Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek Dies at 80

Alex Trebek was a television titan and the patron saint of trivia.

Alex Trebek
Photo: CBS

Alex Trebek, a TV institution and trivia pioneer as the longtime host of the game show Jeopardy!, has died at the age of 80. The show made the announcement via its Twitter account on Sunday afternoon:

Jeopardy! is saddened to share that Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you, Alex.”

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A cause of death was not immediately made available but Trebek had been publicly battling pancreatic cancer after receiving a stage 4 diagnosis in March 2019.

It’s hard to overstate Trebek’s impact on the American television landscape. After a brief journalism career, the Canadian-born Trebek went into the burgeoning game show hosting business, starting with Reach for the Top in 1966. In 1984, however, he received the coveted job as the host of Merv Griffin’s Jeopardy! revival (the show had originally premiered in 1964). The studious, authoritative Trebek proved to be a perfect fit for the simple, yet challenging quiz show and both host and game show eventually reached iconic status.

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Trebek hosted every single episode of Jeopardy! for the next 35 years. In 2014, he passed The Price is Right’s Bob Barker to break the record of most episodes of a game show ever hosted. In his time at Jeopardy!, Trebek won five daytime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and countless other honors.

It’s tempting to attribute Trebek and Jeopardy!’s success to mere consistency. The show, along with its Merv Griffin-created, CBS Studio mate Wheel of Fortune, has been a ubiquitous part of the early evening TV landscape for decades. But that level of ubiquity and consistency doesn’t come without demonstrated excellence. And Trebek was nothing if not excellent. 

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Despite what Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer may think, Jeopardy! is a difficult competition, featuring 61 questions (or “answers” in the show’s parlance) crafted by a crack team of writers. Trebek had the right level of gravitas to lend a sense of added legitimacy to the proceedings, while also knowing when to indulge in some fun.

Shortly following Trebek’s death on Sunday, reaction from Jeopardy! fans began to pour into social media. The three competitors in the recent Jeopardy GOAT tournament, Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter, all shared their condolences.

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Meanwhile fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds revealed that Trebek has a cameo in the upcoming film Free Guy. Trebek maintained a modest acting career throughout his time as Jeopardy! host.

But perhaps the best tributes came from longtime Jeopardy! watchers contributing their favorite Trebek moments and memes like the hosts steadfastly Trebekian pronunciation of “genre.”

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There was also the touching moment in which a Jeopardy! contestant, Dhruv Gaur in the Tournament of Champions used his Final Jeopardy! board to write “We love you, Alex” shortly following the announcement of the host’s cancer diagnosis. Trebek, ever the professional, fought through his tears of gratitude to dutifully dock Dhruv $1,995 for the wrong answer.

Trebek’s status as an American icon persisted right up to the very end. In one of the final episodes aired before his death this weekend (though Jeopardy! films in bulk and more new episodes are likely to arrive for a bit), one contestant shared a touching story with Alex of how he learned English watching the show.

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What that misty clip doesn’t capture is the moment after in which Trebek thanks Burt, then chortles and recalls that all his grandpa taught him was how to swear. Then he quickly directs the show back to the business of answering trivia in the form of a question.