Alex Trebek has died at age 80 after pancreatic cancer battle

Taryn Ryder
·5 min read

Alex Trebek has died more than a year and a half after publicly revealing his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The Ontario-born Trebek was an American pop culture icon and a fixture in homes around the world as the beloved host of Jeopardy! for more than 35 years. He was 80.

The death was confirmed in a statement posted by the Twitter account for Jeopardy!, which noted that Trebek died early on Nov. 8 while surrounded by loved ones.

Trebek said he was "hanging in" there after announcing he was undergoing another round of chemotherapy last year. "We’ll play it by ear and keep chugging along until we either win or lose," he told CTV News, adding he's "not afraid of dying."

"I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life," Trebek shared. "If it happens, why should I be afraid of that?" He kept a positive attitude throughout his cancer battle.

Fans were ecstatic when Trebek, who hosted more than 7,000 Jeopardy! episodes, returned for Season 37 in September. He won seven Emmy awards for hosting the show, most recently in 2020.

"I was concerned that sympathy might play a big role in the voting this year. I’m not a big fan of sympathy votes. We should be judged on the merits of our work. However [I remember] last year, I had just had major surgery to remove two life-threatening blood clots. You think that would elicit a certain amount of sympathy. But I didn’t win, so maybe I’ve been worrying about the wrong thing," he quipped during his acceptance speech last year. "So I’ll do what Sally Field did [at the Oscars] … you guys like me, and you value my work. I tell you if that’s the case, I can live with that."

Although Trebek studied philosophy at the University of Ottawa he decided to pursue a career in journalism landing his first job with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC TV, in the '60s. Trebek, who spoke both French and English, resonated with younger viewers thanks to his breezy demeanor covering everything from sports to music. It's where he began hosting quiz and game shows.

"I went to school in the mornings and worked at nights," Trebek said. "I did everything, at one time replacing every announcer in every possible job."

In 1973, Trebek left Canada for Hollywood where he landed his first American gig as the host of the NBC game show The Wizard of Odds, which only lasted one year. He followed it up with a slew of other jobs hosting short-lived shows High Rollers, The $128,000 Question, Battlestars and Pitfall. It wasn't until 1984 that Trebek — and his trademark mustache — was tapped to launch the syndicated reboot of Jeopardy!, changing his career and life forever. (Jeopardy! had two previous runs from 1964-1975 and 1978-1979.) Trebek said there was an art to fitting in as Jeopardy! host.

Alex Trebek has died, according to a statement posted by Jeopardy!. (Photo: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
Alex Trebek has died, according to a statement posted by Jeopardy!. (Photo: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

"You have to set your ego aside," he told Vulture in 2018. "The stars of the show are the contestants and the game itself. That’s why I’ve always insisted that I be introduced as the host and not the star. And if you want to be a good host, you have to figure a way to get the contestants to — as in the old television commercial about the military — 'be all you can be.' Because if they do well, the show does well. And if the show does well, by association I do well."

In the same interview, Trebek had an interesting response when asked about viewers assuming he knows the answers to all the questions he asks on the show.

"I’ve learned that people draw conclusions that satisfy their prejudices, and those conclusions don’t always coincide with reality. People think because I’m the host of a fairly serious, intelligence-based quiz show that I must know all the answers. I do — because they’re written on a sheet of paper in front of me," Trebek explained. "And audiences are always surprised when they discover that I like to fix things around the house, that I’m not a nerdy person who spends all his time researching information that might come in handy on Jeopardy!. But I don’t mind surprising people in that way."

He also didn't mind surprising producers — and his wife — when he buzzed off his signature mustache, Trebek's most defining physical characteristic for 30 years, during the show's 18th season in 2001. Why? Because he felt like it.

"And it got so much press, I couldn’t believe it. The wars with Iraq or whatever at that time, and people are all in a stew over my mustache," he recalled to the New Republic. "I have one response: Get a life."

And Trebek loved his life — especially his life at home. He leaves behind wife Jean Currivan, 55, whom he wed in 1990. In an interview with People earlier this year, the television icon said his one regret is not meeting her sooner.

"I’m pretty satisfied with my life," he shared. "But my wife Jean and I have been together almost 29 years, and I was thinking about President [George H.W.] Bush when he died, and all the comments about his life about what a nice guy he is, and how he and his wife had been together 73 years. I thought, oh my gosh if I’d just met Jean in my 20s we could have had a longer life together."

Trebek is also survived by their two children: restaurateur Matthew, 29, and Emily, 27, who works in real estate.

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