Alex Trebek Dead at 80
The longtime host of Jeopardy! is gone.
NYT (“Alex Trebek, Longtime Host of ‘Jeopardy!,’ Dies at 80“):
At a restaurant several years ago, a stranger went up to Alex Trebek, the longtime host of “Jeopardy!” and as strangers often did, tried to stump him.
“The American flag flies here 24 hours a day, every day of the year,” the stranger said, using the quiz show host’s particular locution, in which questions are delivered as answers.
Mr. Trebek sensed that the stranger was looking for something more clever than a list of which buildings, like the White House, had been authorized to fly the flag through the night. And without missing a beat he answered in the form of a question: “What is the moon?”
The quick-witted Mr. Trebek, who died on Sunday at age 80 after a battle with cancer that drew legions of fans to rally around him, hosted “Jeopardy!” for a record-setting 37 years. He was an authoritative and unflappable fixture for millions of Americans who organized their weeknights around the program, shouting out the questions as Mr. Trebek read the answers with his impeccable diction.
One major appeal of the show, apart from its intellectual challenge, was its consistency. Over the years its format stayed reliably familiar, as did Mr. Trebek, though he trimmed back his bushy head of hair, grew grayer and occasionally sported a mustache, beard or goatee. Otherwise he was the model of a steady and predictable host — a no-nonsense presence, efficient in his role and comforting in his orderliness.
Mr. Trebek’s death was confirmed by the show’s producers. They said that episodes of the show he hosted would air through Dec. 25 and that they had not made plans for a replacement.
Mr. Trebek had announced in a video on March 6, 2019, that he had received a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that week. He said that like many others with the disease, he had no symptoms until it had spread throughout his body. He delivered the news from the show’s set, wearing, as usual, a bandbox-fresh suit and tie as he spoke straight to the camera without sentiment or histrionics.
When he commanded a game, he might occasionally raise an eyebrow and say “Oooh, noooo, sorry” or repeat a clue with a whiff of condescension; he told New York magazine that when contestants missed obvious answers, he deliberately struck a tone that was meant to convey: “How can you not get this? This is not rocket science.”
Game shows were a staple of my youth and I was particularly a fan of quiz shows. Growing up in the 1970s, I’m old enough to remember the tail end of the Art Fleming era of Jeopardy! Still, even though Trebek didn’t debut as show host until my first semester in college, he’s the man I associate with the show. And even though he was clean-shaven and gray for a long time, this is how I still think of him:
While there are all variety of television stars, there’s a special intimacy between viewers and game- and talk-show hosts; home-team baseball announcers are the only ones I can think of in remotely the same category. They’re in your living- or bedroom several days a week, seemingly as themselves. When they become fixtures in a way that Trebek did, it seems like you’ve known them forever.
And Trebek was, by all accounts, a genuinely decent guy. I was listening to a podcast just last week featuring Ken Jennings, the all-time Jeopardy! champion, and he was absolutely effusive about Trebek.
The man lived to be 80 and had a great life. But it’s hard not to think he’s gone too soon.