Legendary 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek dead at 80

He died of pancreatic cancer.

November 8, 2020, 2:28 PM

Alex Trebek, the quick-witted and debonair television host who won over generations of fans at the helm of the popular quiz show "Jeopardy!," has died after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.

Trebek died early Sunday morning at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement released by "Jeopardy!" officials.

“This is an enormous loss for the JEOPARDY! staff, crew and all of Alex’s millions of fans. He was a legend of the industry that we were all lucky to watch night after night for 37 years," Mike Richards, the show's executive producer, said in a statement. "Working beside him for the past year and a half as he heroically continued to host JEOPARDY! was an incredible honor. His belief in the importance of the show and his willingness to push himself to perform at the highest level was the most inspiring demonstration of courage I have ever seen. His constant desire to learn, his kindness, and his professionalism will be with all of us forever."

PHOTO: Canadian American television star Alex Trebek poses for a portrait in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012.
Canadian American television star Alex Trebek poses for a portrait in Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012.
The Washington Post/Getty Images, FILE

Telegenic and handsome, the beloved Trebek first became familiar to American audiences as host of more than a dozen daytime game shows stretching back to 1966, including "High Rollers," "Double Dare" and "The $128,000 Question."

But it was "Jeopardy!" -- a unique quiz show that challenged contestants on topics from history to literature to pop culture -- that made Trebek a pop culture icon. Over his three decades with the show, he has hosted nearly 8,200 episodes -- a Guinness World Record.

"Today we lost a legend and a beloved member of the Sony Pictures family," Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a statement. "For 37 amazing years, Alex, was that comforting voice, that moment of escape and entertainment at the end of a long, hard day for millions of people around the world. He was the heart and soul of JEOPARDY! and he will be deeply missed by everyone who made him part of their lives."

Trebek is survived by his wife of 30 years, Jean, and children Matthew, Emily and Nicky.

Trebek was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2019 but he continued to host "Jeopardy!" for the next 18 months. His last day in the studio was on Oct. 29, according to the statement from the show.

Shows already hosted by Trebek will air through Dec. 25, according to Sony Pictures Entertainment.

PHOTO: Alex Trebek hosts "High Rollers" in an undated promotional image.
Alex Trebek hosts "High Rollers" in an undated promotional image.
NBCUniversal via Getty Images

In July, Trebek told ABC News he wanted to be remembered as "a nice guy."

"What you see on air really is what I am," Trebek said at the time. "And I'm a reasonably nice guy. And I'd like you to view me that way. I don't go out of my way to malign anybody. I want to be considered as helpful and generous, generous and kind."

Also in July, Trebek updated fans about his cancer battle, saying he was undergoing an immunotherapy program.

"My current numbers are very good, but we will have to be patient with this new immunotherapy program that I am on. But, if it were to stop being successful, I would return to my previous chemo treatment -- NOT stop," Trebek said in his statement.

The original version of "Jeopardy!" ran from 1964 to 1975. Trebek took over a reboot of the show in 1984 as part of NBC's attempt to inject fresh faces into its then-aging game show lineup. After a slow start, fans gravitated toward him, making the show and its host inseparable in most viewers' imaginations.

PHOTO:  Alex Trebek hosts "JEOPARDY! The Greatest of All Time".
Alex Trebek hosts "JEOPARDY! The Greatest of All Time".
Eric Mccandless/ABC via Getty Images

"Jeopardy!," in which contestants are provided with answers and must reply by asking a question, has won 35 Emmy Awards with Trebek as host, and in 2011 took home a Peabody Award.

George Alexander Trebek was born in the Canadian town of Sudbury, Ontario, in 1940. After earning a degree in philosophy at the University of Ottawa, in 1961, he embarked on a broadcasting career that included radio and TV stints with CBC News in Canada.

After forays into hosting game shows in Canada, Trebek landed a similar job at NBC, hosting "The Wizard of Odds." The show fell flat with audiences, as did several others Trebek hosted over the following decade.

By the time Trebek was offered "Jeopardy!" in 1984, his ubiquity on daytime television had been firmly ensconced by hosting shows that included "Battlestars," "Pitfall" and "The Magnificent Marble Machine."

But "Jeopardy!" undoubtedly will be his legacy.

Trebek also became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998.

Trebek has won seven Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was also elected into the National Broadcasting Hall of Fame two years later.

PHOTO: Alex Trebek poses for a portrait circa 1984.
Alex Trebek poses for a portrait circa 1984.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He has stars on both the Hollywood and Canadian walks of fame and was named an officer of the Order of Canada -- the nation's second-highest civilian honor.

"We have lost an icon. Almost every night for more than three decades, Alex Trebek entertained and educated millions around the world, instilling in so many of us a love for trivia. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all who are mourning this tremendous loss," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Trebek was a longtime supporter of the nonprofit World Vision and spent more than two decades traveling the globe for the Christian charity, which helps those in poverty and suffering from oppression.

He was also involved with the USO, going on tour 13 times to give support to the troops and was a major supporter of his alma mater, the University of Ottowa. There he created the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue and endowed it with a $5 million gift.

"I don’t think life would be as rewarding if I weren’t helping my fellow man out whenever I get the chance," he said, according to his official bio on the Jeopardy! website.

Before his battle with cancer, Trebek suffered heart attacks in 2007 and 2012, each requiring a leave of absence from "Jeopardy."

Ken Jennings, the most successful contestant in the history of "Jeopardy!" who won 74 consecutive games in 2004, took to Twitter on Sunday to express his condolences.

"Thinking today about his family and his Jeopardy! family—which, in a way, included millions of us," Jennings wrote.

James Holzhauer, another record-setting contestant who in 2019 won 32 consecutive games, also took to Twitter on Sunday, writing, "It was one of the great privileges of my life to spend time with this courageous man while he fought the battle of his life. You will never be replaced in our hearts, Alex."

ABC is airing a special tribute to Alex Trebek on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 10 p.m. ET.