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Beloved ‘Jeopardy!’ Host Alex Trebek Dies At 80

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Iconic and beloved “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek passed away on Sunday morning after a year and a half since being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. 

According to a statement by the “Jeopardy!” Twitter account, “Alex Trebek passed away peacefully at home early this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” after turning 80 years old just a few months earlier in July.

Trebek first announced his diagnosis in March 2019 via a clip on the “Jeopardy!” YouTube channel. In a one minute and 13 second video, Trebek told the audience that “in keeping with [his] longtime policy of being open and transparent” he wanted to share the news on his health personally. Continuing, he explained that “[he plans] to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease,” even stating that he “has to,” and joked that “under the terms of [his] contract, [he has] to host ‘Jeopardy!’ for three more years!” Despite the grave news, he kept up his joking personality that made him the darling host he was for so many years. 

Trebek began hosting “Jeopardy!” in 1984, and became one of the most iconic and long-lasting American figures on television over the past several decades. Hosting more than 8,200 episodes over 37 seasons, Trebek acquired the Guinness World Record for the most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter in June 2014. In 2011, Trebek received a Peabody Award for the show and for “decades of consistently encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge.” Trebek had also been awarded seven Daytime Emmy awards for Outstanding Game Show Host, earning his seventh one in June 2020.

Since his announcement, Trebek continued to host “Jeopardy!” even while undergoing treatment. In the year and a half that followed, he updated concerned fans and audiences on his health, even doing a one-year update since his diagnosis in March 2020. 

In a video posted on the “Jeopardy!” Twitter, the game show host reminded viewers that the one-year survival rate with stage 4 pancreatic cancer is 18%. Additionally, he triumphantly stated that “[he] is very happy to report that [he] has just reached that marker.” He continued by stating that “[he’d] be lying if [he] said the journey had been an easy one,” ending the one minute and 49 second video with an optimism that defined his character.

“If we just take it one day at a time, with a positive attitude, anything is possible,” Trebek said. 

Among thousands of mourning fans and audiences, celebrities and former contestants of the long-running game show took to Twitter to express their condolences. Ken Jennings, crowned the “Greatest of All Time” winner earlier this year, paid tribute to the esteemed game show host, tweeting that “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.” Later, Jennings also expressed that he was “[t]hinking today about his family and his ‘Jeopardy!’ Family,” solemnly adding “which, in a way, included millions of us.” Pat Sajak, host of “Wheel of Fortune,” said he “was honored to be a friend and a part of his professional family for all these years” and called Sunday a “very sad day.”

Trebek was not only a beloved TV game show host but also a massive supporter of charities and philanthropic organizations. Just two months after his diagnosis, Trebek spoke at Los Angeles’ PanCAN Purplestride Walk, a fundraising event for pancreatic cancer patients and their families. The PanCAN website paid tribute to Trebek, posting a picture of him attending the event and thanking him for the hope he gave to many. There are links included in the post where people can post a message, fundraise with a tribute page and even donate in honor of Trebek. 

Photo courtesy of PanCan (https://www.pancan.org/news/pancan-mourns-the-death-of-alex-trebek/)

In 2011, Trebek formed the Trebek Family Foundation with his wife to be able to donate more to the charities that he cared for. “Once you form a charitable foundation, it becomes easier to give,” Trebek said to the Washingtonian.

Trebek’s favorite animal happened to be the musk ox. He had a 30-year history with the Musk Ox Development Corporation, which is a “non-profit Musk Ox Farm … dedicated to the domestication of the musk ox.” Trebek visited the ox farm many times and became one of its largest donors. According to CNN, the farm’s executive director said that Trebek was similar to his favorite animal, in that he had a “[h]eart of a musk ox, [and was as] tough as a musk ox.”

According to Variety, Trebek’s last day in the “Jeopardy!” studio was on Oct. 29. New episodes with Trebek will continue to air posthumously until Dec. 25, when the last one is scheduled to be broadcasted.

However, the revered TV personality will live on past the final episode air date. In the hearts of millions of fans, Trebek will be remembered as a host who made learning fun and, just like he told ET earlier this year in May, “[as] a good guy, [and as] a nice man.”

Hilary Gil is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at hsgil@uci.edu.