Alex Trebek’s impact since he began hosting “Jeopardy!” in the 1980s is palpable. Not only have he and the show become figures in pop culture, from references in “The Simpsons” to “Saturday Night Live,” but an outpouring of love since his pancreatic cancer diagnosis has made it clear that millions of people truly care about him.
One of those people, “Jeopardy!” contestant Dhruv Gaur, expressed his support in November during a round of Final Jeopardy. In third place and unable to answer the clue, Gaur sidestepped the question entirely and wrote, “What is… We [love] you, Alex!” The heartfelt message caught the 79-year-old Trebek by surprise.
“I read it first and then I got choked up because it suddenly registered on me: ‘Oh, dear. OK. Yeah,’” Trebek said during an ABC News special.
He added, “I don’t mind getting choked up. My oncologist told me one of the symptoms, if you will, of pancreatic cancer is that you get these moments of depression, sadness.”
Watch the one-hour special "What Is Jeopardy? Alex Trebek and America’s Most Popular Quiz Show" on Thursday, Jan. 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC
Trebek first announced his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis to the world in March via a YouTube video in which he vowed to “fight” the disease and “keep working.” Since then, Trebek has spoken openly about his treatment journey, becoming a de facto spokesperson for pancreatic cancer awareness.
It was severe stomach pain that first prompted Trebek to see a doctor.
“I knew as soon as the doctor came back and mentioned the pancreas. I said, ‘Uh-oh, it’s going to be cancer,” Trebek said.
Trebek said he told his wife of 29 years, Jean Trebek, about his diagnosis first. However, he said he didn’t tell her “as quickly as I could have” because “it was not devastating news to me.”
“Throughout my life, I’ve always wondered about how courageous a human being I was,” Trebek said about his diagnosis. “I just look at it as it’s a part of life. Does that mean I’m courageous because I’m dealing with it? No. I could be scared to death and I’d still have to deal with it.”
Jean Trebek said it’s hardest to see her husband “in pain and I can’t help him.” She also said it’s hard seeing him make poor dietary choices.
“Too much diet soda,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s always tough for caretakers because she has to deal with her worrying about my well-being and also dealing with… I’m not always the most pleasant person to be around when I’m experiencing severe pain or depression, and she has to tread lightly around me,” Alex Trebek responded.
Alex Trebek acknowledged that he might not have a lot of time left to live. He said that prayer and the fans who’ve expressed support have helped him feel better.
“I have learned something in the past year and it’s this: We don’t know when we’re going to die,” Alex Trebek said. “Because of the cancer diagnosis, it’s no longer an open-ended life, it’s a closed-ended life because of the terrible...survival rates of pancreatic cancer. Because of that, and something else that is operating here, people all over America and abroad have decided they want to let me know now, while I’m alive, about the impact that I’ve been having on their existence.”
“They have come out and they have told me, and my gosh, it makes me feel so good,” Alex Trebek added.
Although Alex Trebek had gone through chemotherapy and doctors had described his cancer as “near remission,” he told ABC News in October that there’d been a resurgence in the disease. He said at the time that doctors had decided he’d have to undergo chemotherapy again.
“We may try a new protocol...a different chemo or something in the trial stage that is not chemotherapy,” Alex Trebek told ABC News for the “Jeopardy!” special. “I don’t mind experimenting. I’ve got nothing to lose, so let’s go for it.”
Despite his diagnosis, Alex Trebek is still hard at work taping episodes of “Jeopardy!” and investing time in his hobby: construction.
For 27 years, the Trebek family has lived in the same home, parts of which have been rebuilt by Alex Trebek himself. This year, he said he finally got around to remodeling Jean Trebek’s “corner of the house.”
“It has taken me 20 years to redo her corner of the house...and she has her office redone, her bathroom, her closet,” Alex Trebek said. “There are days when I wake up and feel strong. Yesterday I was up on the roof with my blower blowing all the pine needles off there. I got three bags full outside.”
With the “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament beginning Jan. 7, 2020, Alex Trebek has said in the past that he’ll stay hosting the show “as long as my skills have not diminished,” but noted that process has already begun. He said he’s already thought about how he’ll say goodbye to all those who will one day watch his last show.
“It’ll be a significant moment for me,” he said. “But I’ve kind of, in my mind, rehearsed it already, and what I would do on that day is tell the director, ‘Time the show down to leave me 30 seconds at the end. That’s all I want.’ And I will say my goodbyes and I will tell people, ‘Don’t ask me who’s going to replace me because I have no say whatsoever. But I’m sure that if you give them the same love and attention and respect that you have shown me...then they will be a success and the show will continue being a success. And until we meet again, God bless you and goodbye.”