Alex Trebek, Admired Host of 'Jeopardy!,' Dies at 80

Alex Trebek poses on the set of the "Jeopardy!" -Getty-H 2019
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Alex Trebek

The Ontario native started on the game show in 1984 and was spoofed by Will Ferrell along the way. "I loved it, it means you've arrived," he said.

Alex Trebek, the polished host of Jeopardy! who for nearly four decades was the man with the answers — all in the form of a question, of course — has died. He was 80.

Trebek died early Sunday morning at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family and friends, Jeopardy! confirmed on social media.

On March 6, 2019, the game show icon revealed that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, but he vowed to beat it "because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years." In November 2018, he had extended his deal through 2022.

In the weeks following his stunning announcement, hundreds of thousands of messages were sent to the host — all of which he read, according to a second video in which he thanked those folks for their support and encouragement. He said he lost his hair during cancer treatments and wore a hairpiece on the air.

"Working beside him for the past year and a half as he heroically continued to host Jeopardy! was an incredible honor," executive producer Mike Richards said in a statement. "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.

Episodes hosted by Trebek will air through Dec. 25; his last day in the studio was Oct. 29, according to Sony Pictures Entertainment. The show "is not announcing plans for a new host at this time," the company said.

Presiding over a glossy rebooted version of Jeopardy! since fall 1984, the good-natured Trebek collected seven Daytime Emmys from 34 nominations and a Peabody Award for his work on the show.

He hosted in the vicinity of a Guinness World Record 8,000 episodes — all from the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City since 1994 — taping multiple installments two days a week for about 45 weeks a year.

He said viewers embrace Jeopardy! as they would comfort food.

"We are a show that comes into your home every day that doesn't disturb you," he said in a 2007 interview for the website The Interviews: An Oral History of Television. "It's the kind of program you can watch with any member of your family; there's something for the kids, there's something for the grandparents in terms of clues, everyone can play. You can spend a half-hour together without feeling you have to flee the room to watch your own show. We're special in that way, but not in a big way."

If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, it was clear that the writers at Saturday Night Live admired him. Will Ferrell portrayed Trebek more than a dozen times in a recurring Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch, exaggerating the intonation and dry humor for which the host was known as he guided off-the-wall characterizations of stars like Sean Connery and Burt Reynolds through the quiz show spoof.

"I loved it, it means you've arrived," he said.

George Alexander Trebek was born on July 22, 1940, in Sudbury, Ontario, the older of two children. His father, also named George, worked as a chef in a hotel, and his mother, Lucille, was a housewife.

He went to a boarding school at the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Ottawa for three years starting when he was 12 and earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Ottawa in 1961.

Trebek began his career in broadcasting at CBC radio while he was still a senior in college, reading station breaks, news and sports on the 6 p.m.-midnight shift. After graduation, he shifted to television and spoke in English and French, and in 1963, he hosted a live teen music show, Music Hop, which featured acts like Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot from Toronto.

The charismatic Trebek landed his first game show gig in 1966 as the quizmaster on the CBC's Reach for the Top, a competition for bright high school students (SCTV's Eugene Levy did a great take on Trebek, his afro and his mustache), and then hosted a daytime variety program called Afternoon.

Alan Thicke was a guest on that, and he brought his fellow Canadian to the U.S. in 1973 to become the face of a game show he was producing, The Wizard of Odds. (It was canceled by NBC after just a few months.)

Trebek then hosted the NBC/syndicated game show High Rollers, with glamorous co-hostesses Ruta Lee and Elaine Stewart rolling huge pairs of dice for the contestants, in two stints from 1974-80.

When entertainer and media mogul Merv Griffin decided to revive Jeopardy! — he created the game show that that had originally run on NBC from 1964-75 and 1978-79 — his company hired Trebek to host as well as produce a high-tech revival. (Griffin wanted another game show to be paired in syndication with his Wheel of Fortune.)

While the buttoned-down Art Fleming was the original host, it's hard to imagine Jeopardy! without the always witty Trebek. In 1991, he became the first person to host three game shows (Classic ConcentrationTo Tell the Truth and Jeopardy!) that were concurrently on the air.

Over the years, Trebek sometimes couldn't help reacting when a Jeopardy! contestant erred. "I know that 'you’ve disappointed daddy' is a tone I'm striking," he told Vanity Fair in 2018. "It's also, 'How can you not get this? This is not rocket science.' "

He also was bothered when players "jump all over the board even after the Daily Doubles have been dealt with." (Future contestants, heed his advice.)

"They're doing themselves a disservice," he said. "When the show's writers construct categories, they do it so that there's a flow in terms of difficulty, and if you jump to the bottom of the category, you may get a clue that would be easier to understand if you'd begun at the top of the category and saw how the clues worked. I like there to be order on the show, but as the impartial host I accept disorder."

During breaks in Jeopardy! tapings, Trebek often took questions from the audience. Once, he was asked what he would do if he didn't host a game show. "I think I'd enjoy being a cardinal, because I like the outfits," he said. "And they seem to have a pretty nice life. Now, being pope, that'd be OK, too, because I look great in white."

Trebek rarely passed up an opportunity to work, and he appeared as himself on such TV shows as SeinfeldHow I Met Your MotherThe SimpsonsCheersThe NannyMama's FamilyGolden GirlsBaywatchThe Larry Sanders ShowOrange Is the New Black and Beverly Hills, 90210 and in the films Charlie's Angels (2000) and The Bucket List (2007). He also portrayed a mysterious "Man in Black" on The X-Files.

A U.S. citizen since 1997, Trebek received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999 and then one on the Canadian equivalent in Toronto seven years later. In 2011, he was honored with a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award and a Peabody for "encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge."

Trebek was invested as an officer in the Order of Canada, one of his country's highest civilian honors, in 2017.

"Through his iconic television work, Alex Trebek has instilled a love of learning in millions of people around the world," the official announcement stated. "Off-camera, he is a champion of geographic literacy in the United States and Canada through his work with their geographic societies. Generous with his time and support, he is committed to multiple educational, environmental and humanitarian causes, notably as an ambassador for [the humanitarian organization] World Vision."

Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Jean, and children Matthew, Emily and Nicky.

"Today we lost a legend and a beloved member of the Sony Pictures family,” Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Tony Vinciquerra said. "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."

In September 2019, Trebek told Good Morning America that he wasn't afraid of death.

"I realize that there is an end in sight for me, just as there is for everyone else," he said. "One line that I have used with our staff in recent weeks and months is that when I do pass on, one thing they will not say at my funeral is, 'Oh, he was taken from us too soon.' Hey, guys. I’m 79 years old.

"I've had one hell of a good life. And I've enjoyed it … the thought of passing on doesn't frighten me, it doesn't. Other things do, the effect it will have on my loved ones … it makes me sad. But the thought of myself moving on, hey folks, it comes with the territory."