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Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80

Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80
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Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80

Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80

At a restaurant a number of years in the past, a stranger went as much as Alex Trebek, the longtime host of “Jeopardy!” and as strangers usually did, tried to stump him.

“The American flag flies right here 24 hours a day, day-after-day of the yr,” the stranger mentioned, utilizing the quiz present host’s explicit locution, through which questions are delivered as solutions.

Mr. Trebek sensed that the stranger was on the lookout for one thing extra intelligent than a listing of which buildings, just like the White Home, had been licensed to fly the flag via the evening. And with out lacking a beat he answered within the type of a query: “What’s the moon?”

The fast-witted Mr. Trebek, who died on Sunday at age 80 after a battle with most cancers that drew legions of followers to rally round him, hosted “Jeopardy!” for a record-setting 37 years. He was an authoritative and unflappable fixture for tens of millions of Individuals who organized their weeknights across the program, shouting out the questions as Mr. Trebek learn the solutions together with his impeccable diction.

One main attraction of the present, other than its mental problem, was its consistency. Over time its format stayed reliably acquainted, as did Mr. Trebek, although he trimmed again his bushy head of hair, grew grayer and infrequently sported a mustache, beard or goatee. In any other case he was the mannequin of a gentle and predictable host — a no-nonsense presence, environment friendly in his position and comforting in his orderliness.

Mr. Trebek’s demise was confirmed by the present’s producers. They mentioned that episodes of the present he hosted would air via Dec. 25 and that that they had not made plans for a alternative.

Mr. Trebek had introduced in a video on March 6, 2019, that he had acquired a analysis of Stage 4 pancreatic most cancers that week. He mentioned that like many others with the illness, he had no signs till it had unfold all through his physique. He delivered the information from the present’s set, carrying, as typical, a bandbox-fresh swimsuit and tie as he spoke straight to the digicam with out sentiment or histrionics.

When he commanded a sport, he may sometimes elevate an eyebrow and say “Oooh, noooo, sorry” or repeat a clue with a whiff of condescension; he instructed New York journal that when contestants missed apparent solutions, he intentionally struck a tone that was meant to convey: “How are you going to not get this? This isn’t rocket science.”

By way of all of it, he saved the sport operating on its strict timetable.

He began internet hosting in 1984, when the present returned to the airwaves after a hiatus. Since then he has been the one host, helming each episode besides one, on April Fools’ Day in 1997, when he swapped locations with Pat Sajak, the host of “Wheel of Fortune.”

Mr. Trebek and Mr. Sajak had a pleasant rivalry through the years as they led two of the longest-running sport reveals in tv historical past. For years, “Jeopardy!” was the top-rated quiz present in America and normally the No. 2 sport present, behind “Wheel of Fortune.”

A couple of weeks after Mr. Trebek introduced that he had most cancers, the rankings for “Jeopardy!” coincidentally started to soar when a contestant, James Holzhauer, a sports activities gambler from Las Vegas, roared via the sport on a successful streak that captivated the nation.

Every evening, increasingly viewers tuned in to see whether or not Mr. Holzhauer might beat the document set by Ken Jennings, a pc programmer, who scored 74 straight victories in 2004. With Mr. Holzhauer on the buzzer, “Jeopardy!” even blew previous “Decide Judy,” lengthy the top-rated present in syndication.

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In the long run, Mr. Holzhauer fell simply $58,000 shy (over 32 video games) of breaking Mr. Jennings’s document win of $2.5 million. However he boosted the present’s rankings to a 14-year excessive, drawing 13.3 million day by day viewers. He later donated a few of his winnings to charitable causes, together with analysis into pancreatic most cancers in Mr. Trebek’s identify.

Mr. Trebek mentioned later that whereas he was taping a few of the reveals with Mr. Holzhauer, he had been in excruciating ache.

In contrast to many celebrities who conceal sickness, Mr. Trebek was clear about what he was going via. Generally his ache would shoot “from a 3 to an 11” throughout tapings, he instructed CBS’s “Sunday Morning” in Might 2019.

“I taped the present, after which I made it to the dressing room on one event, simply barely, earlier than I writhed in ache and cried in ache,” he mentioned.

In March 2020, he gave a one-year video replace on his standing, noting that simply 18 p.c of individuals with pancreatic most cancers dwell that lengthy.

The chemo therapies have been nearly an excessive amount of, he mentioned.

“There have been moments of nice ache,” he mentioned, “days when sure bodily features now not functioned and sudden, large assaults of nice melancholy that made me surprise if it actually was value preventing on.”

However to surrender, he mentioned, would have been to betray family members who have been serving to him survive.

Mr. Trebek hosted greater than 8,000 episodes of “Jeopardy!” In 2014, he claimed the document for internet hosting probably the most episodes of a single sport present, surpassing the document set by Bob Barker, who had led “The Worth is Proper” for six,828 episodes between 1972 and 2007.

Mr. Trebek as soon as mentioned he thought sport reveals did properly as a result of they averted battle.

“At the present time, when there may be a lot societal stress, sport reveals are precious as a result of they’re nice,” he instructed New York journal in 2018.

Some viewers have been drawn to the sense of absolute certitude that Mr. Trebek projected.

“As we get additional into the twenty first century, and we develop into extra conscious of the relativism of fact, there’s something satisfying about Alex telling you it’s proper or improper,” Robert Thompson, a professor of tv and common tradition at Syracuse College, mentioned in a cellphone interview.

“I really like that there isn’t any dialogue, no panel of specialists,” he mentioned. “Simply Alex together with his playing cards.”

Mr. Trebek spurned being known as the star of “Jeopardy!” He needed viewers to deal with the fabric. The present derived its drama not from any antics of his, however from the contestants and the likelihood that at any second fortunes might shift, with an obvious loser changing into an prompt winner, and vice versa.

“You need to set your ego apart,” Mr. Trebek mentioned of his position. “If you wish to be a very good host, you must determine a technique to get the contestants to — as within the previous tv business concerning the navy — ‘be all you could be.’ As a result of in the event that they do properly, the present does properly. And if the present does properly, by affiliation, I do properly.”

The present did properly. “Jeopardy!” has received extra Emmy Awards — 35 — than every other sport present. They included the 2017 Daytime Emmy for excellent sport present — outstanding for a program on the air for greater than three a long time. Mr. Trebek himself received six Emmys for excellent sport present host and a further lifetime achievement award.

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“Jeopardy!” received a 2011 Peabody Award, the primary time in additional than 50 years {that a} tv quiz present had been so acknowledged. The quotation mentioned the award, given in 2012, was “for many years of constantly encouraging, celebrating and rewarding information.” It mentioned that “Jeopardy!” was “a mannequin of integrity and decorum.”

The nod to integrity was important. Quiz reveals had fallen into disrepute after dishonest scandals within the Fifties; the 1994 movie “Quiz Present” dramatized the deceit.

In response to these scandals, the thought for “Jeopardy!” was born.

Merv Griffin, the discuss present host and media mogul who created the present, recounted in “The ‘Jeopardy!’ E book” (1990) that he had been speaking to his spouse in 1963 about how a lot he missed the previous quiz reveals. However, he mentioned, he acknowledged that the format had misplaced all credibility after revelations that contestants on some applications had been secretly fed the solutions.

Properly, then, his spouse, Julann, had mentioned, Why not give contestants the solutions to start out with and make them provide you with the questions?

It was a lightweight bulb second. Ms. Griffin mentioned, “79 Wistful Vista.” And Mr. Griffin replied, “What’s Fibber McGee and Molly’s handle?” — a reference to characters on a long-running radio comedy.

The mechanics of the sport, initially known as “What’s the Query?” went via a number of iterations earlier than “Jeopardy!” made its debut on NBC on March 30, 1964, with Artwork Fleming because the host.

Initially successful, the present was canceled in 1975 as NBC sought to succeed in a youthful demographic. “Jeopardy!” returned in 1978, disappeared once more, then underwent a high-tech face raise. The low-tech sport board was changed with a financial institution of video displays. The theme music, composed by Mr. Griffin, was up to date utilizing digital synthesizers. And in 1984, the present got here again for good.

Mr. Trebek has mentioned that he was chosen as host as a result of he had made a very good impression when he crammed in on “Wheel of Fortune” in an emergency when the unique host, Chuck Woolery, was hospitalized. Merv Griffin Enterprises, which created each reveals, appreciated Mr. Trebek’s seamless efficiency on “Wheel” and provided him “Jeopardy!”

Mr. Griffin additionally wrote the present’s extremely distinctive “Assume” theme, which is performed throughout “Last Jeopardy!” as contestants write down questions that normally make or break them. Its 30-second countdown has develop into synonymous with any deadline strain, with a wooden block timekeeper and a harp glissando end in addition to pizzicato strings on the very finish.

Mr. Trebek loved listening to the theme music performed at ballparks and soccer video games when managers huddled or time was in any other case stopped. That meant that the music was immediately recognizable, that “Jeopardy!” had arrived, he mentioned — that it had develop into “a part of Americana.”

George Alexander Trebek was born on July 22, 1940, in Larger Sudbury, Ontario, north of Toronto. His father, George Edward Trebek, was a chef who had emigrated from Ukraine as a toddler, and his mom, Lucille (Lagacé), was French Canadian. Alex grew up in a bilingual French-English family.

He attended Jesuit faculties till the age of 12, when his dad and mom divorced; he then left Sudbury to attend boarding college on the College of Ottawa Excessive College in Ottawa, graduating in 1957. Afterward he enrolled on the College of Ottawa.

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By his junior yr he wanted cash to pay for faculty and located a job on the Canadian Broadcasting Company as a summer season aid announcer. He took on different asserting gigs. After graduating in 1961 with a serious in philosophy, Mr. Trebek stayed on the CBC, the place his pursuits turned to internet hosting.

His first such job was for a Canadian music program known as “Music Hop” in 1963. He then hosted a highschool quiz present known as “Attain for the Prime” and different miscellaneous applications till 1973, when he moved to the USA. There he began out on a short-lived sport present known as “The Wizard of Odds.” A dizzying sequence of different reveals adopted, together with “Excessive Rollers,” “Double Dare” and “The $128,000 Query.”

In 1974 he married Elaine Callei, a businesswoman and former Playboy bunny. They’d no youngsters and divorced in 1981. In 1990, he married Jean Currivan, an actual property undertaking supervisor from New York.

Survivors embody his spouse and his youngsters, Matthew, Emily and Nicky.

In 2016, Forbes estimated Mr. Trebek’s wage at $16.5 million and ranked him because the eleventh highest paid tv host on this planet. Nonetheless, Mr. Trebek eschewed the Hollywood excessive life. He reveled in being a homebody, drove a pickup truck and spent his leisure time on do-it-yourself dwelling repairs. For a time, he owned a 700-acre ranch close to Paso Robles in California, the place he bred and educated thoroughbred racehorses, however he bought it in 2005.

His job helming “Jeopardy!” didn’t stop him from periodically internet hosting different sport reveals, including to his reputation. He hosted “Jeopardy!” and “Basic Focus” concurrently and on Feb. 4, 1991, made broadcast historical past when he additionally appeared on “To Inform the Fact,” changing into the primary particular person to host three American sport reveals without delay.

Someplace alongside the way in which he grew to become a cultural icon.

Mr. Trebek appeared ceaselessly as himself in motion pictures, together with in “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), and on tv applications, together with “The Simpsons” and “The Colbert Report.” He ran a leg with the Olympic torch prematurely of the 1996 Video games in Atlanta.

He even hosted a debate for the governor’s race in Pennsylvania in 2018, however the outcome was disastrous. He had mentioned that he needed the format to be conversational, however nobody had anticipated how a lot he needed to be a part of the dialog. He talked for greater than 40 p.c of the time, together with providing random feedback on the clergy abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. He later apologized, saying he had misunderstood the position of moderator.

Nonetheless, in an unscientific ballot in Reader’s Digest in 2013, he got here in eighth on the checklist of 100 most trusted Individuals (he grew to become a naturalized United States citizen in 1998).

Since Mr. Trebek introduced his analysis, his admirers have flooded the web and elsewhere with encomiums.

“Regardless of the analysis, Trebek continued to work, to placed on his fits and browse his clues,” wrote one, Sam Anderson, in 2019 in Gadget Clock Journal.

“It was a dignified refusal to give up to doom,” he added. “He was the squarest potential existentialist hero: a person who holds the reply to each single trivia query, however to not the good last query of demise — and but he retains displaying up anyway, studying his clues, giving us each final reply he can.”

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