Alex Trebek, Long-Running ‘Jeopardy!’ Host, Dies at 80

LOS ANGELES—Alex Trebek, who presided over the beloved quiz show “Jeopardy!” for more than 30 years with dapper charm and a touch of school-master strictness, died Sunday. He was 80.

Trebek, who announced in 2019 that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, died at his California home, surrounded by family and friends, “Jeopardy!” studio Sony said.

The Canadian-born host, who made a point of informing fans about his health directly, spoke in a calm, even tone as he revealed his illness and hope for a cure in a video posted March 6, 2019.

In the video, Trebek said he was joining the 50,000 other Americans who receive such a diagnosis each year and that he recognized that the prognosis was not encouraging.

But Trebek said he intended to fight it and keep working, even joking that he needed to beat the disease because his “Jeopardy!” contract ran for three more years. Less than a week later, he opened the show with a message acknowledging the outpouring of kind words and prayers he’d received.

“Thanks to the—believe it or not—hundreds of thousands of people who have sent in tweets, texts, emails, cards, and letters wishing me well,” Trebek said. “I’m a lucky guy.”

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek holds the award for outstanding game show host, for his work on “Jeopardy!” backstage at the 33rd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 28, 2006. (Reed Saxon/AP Photo)

“Jeopardy!” bills itself as “America’s favorite quiz show” and captivated the public with a unique format in which contestants were told the answers and had to provide the questions on a variety of subjects, including movies, politics, history, and popular culture.

They would answer by saying “What is … ?” or “Who is …. ?”

Trebek, who became its host in 1984, was a master of the format, engaging in friendly banter with contestants, appearing genuinely pleased when they answered correctly and, at the same time, moving the game along in a brisk no-nonsense fashion whenever people struggled for answers.

He never pretended to know the answers himself if he really didn’t, deferring to the show’s experts to decide whether a somewhat vague answer had come close enough to be counted as correct.

“I try not to take myself too seriously,” he told an interviewer in 2004. “I don’t want to come off as a pompous ass and indicate that I know everything when I don’t.”

The show was the brainstorm of Juann Griffin, wife of the late talk show host-entrepreneur Merv Griffin, who said she suggested to him one day that he create a game show where people were given the answers.

“Jeopardy!” debuted on NBC in 1964 with Art Fleming as emcee and was an immediate hit. It lasted until 1975, then was revived in syndication with Trebek.

Long identified by a full head of hair and trim mustache (though in 2001 he startled viewers by shaving his mustache, “completely on a whim”), Trebek was more than qualified for the job, having started his game show career on “Reach for the Top” in his native country.

Moving to the United States in 1973, he appeared on “The Wizard of Odds,” “High Rollers,” “The $128,000 Question,” and “Double Dare.” Even during his run on “Jeopardy!,” Trebek worked on other shows. In the early 1990s, he was the host of three— “Jeopardy!,” “To Tell the Truth,” and “Classic Concentration.”

“Jeopardy!” made him famous. He won five Emmys as its host, and received stars on both the Hollywood and Canadian walks of fame. In 2012, the show won a prestigious Peabody Award.

By Lynn Elber