On the heels of 24 hours of post-U.S. election joy for many Canadians and Americans, a quiet Canadian legend has died.
Alex Trebek, the beloved longtime host of TV’s “Jeopardy!” game show, died peacefully Sunday morning, surrounded by family and friends, the “Jeopardy!” Twitter account announced. He was 80, and had been fighting pancreatic cancer since 2019.
The loss of Ontario’s son was quickly felt among fans on both sides of the border; Trebek had been a staple in millions of living rooms as the host of the popular prime-time quiz show that has its contestants phrase their answers as questions.
It was a role he made all his own with his elegance, intelligence, endless curiosity and trademark razor-sharp wit. The Sudbury-born personality was our collective dad at the dinner table, who’d quiz you on those little known facts that would stretch your brain and broaden your horizons. He wasn’t afraid to bomb with a dad joke here or there, either. And we all loved him for it.
On Sunday, the internet said thank you to Trebek for all the ways he’d touched their lives. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you think, and they might make you cry.
‘One of the toughest things people can do’
It’s perfectly fine if you do cry, according to Mr. Trebek, as he explained in this quote from his recent memoir, The Answer Is...; Reflections On My Life.
“... the longer I've lived with cancer, the more my definition of toughness has changed. I used to think not crying meant you were tough. Now I think crying means you're tough. It means you're strong enough to be honest and vulnerable. It means you're not pretending. And not pretending, being able to let your guard down and show people how you truly feel and admit that you're a wuss, is one of the toughest things a person can do.”
That’s a relief because this next moment is sure to get the waterworks going. “Jeopardy!” recently shared this clip of contestant Burt Thakur, who basically told Trebek that the reason he’s on the show competing is because of him:
“I learned English because of you,” Thakur said in the clip above. “My grandfather, who raised me — I’m gonna get tears right now ... I used to sit on his lap and watch you every day. So, it’s a pretty special moment for me, man.”
Trebek, himself, had a teary moment on the show last November, when contestant Dhruv Gaur’s wrong answer on the Final Jeopardy question actually turned out to be so, so right.
Gaur, not knowing the answer, made a last-minute decision to write “What is we ❤️you, Alex!” on his screen.
You can see Trebek’s response around the 20-second mark:
“That’s very kind, thank you,” Trebek said, his voice cracking. Gaur later told Ellen DeGeneres that the show had been taped just after Trebek had announced he was going back into treatment for his pancreatic cancer.
“Obviously. I wasn’t going to win the game or anything, so I could try to figure out the right answer or I could do something for this person who might need it right now,” Gaur said.
‘We’ll just keep chunking along until we either win or lose’
Trebek showed us the power of accepting things as they are in a W5 interview, where he talked about not being afraid to die. CTV executive producer Rosa Hwang said of the clip below: “In that moment, I think Alex’s answer was more for his son than anyone else.”
“Pancreatic cancer does not frighten me ... Not afraid of dying,” he said. “I’m 79 years old. I’ve lived a good life, a full life, and I’m nearing the end of that life. I know that. I’m not going to delude myself. So, if it happens it happens. And why should I be afraid of it?” he continued.
“We’ll play it by ear,” he said later in the clip. “And just keep chunking along until we either win or lose.”
‘She’s kept me alive’
Alex reserved the highest praise for his wife of 30 years, Jean, and their love story is a love-at-first-sight tale for the ages.
“I mean, you’ve heard stories of people who meet and decide within half an hour; I knew this was going to be the person I’d end up with,” he wrote in his memoir. “With Jeanie that’s how it was. I wasn’t looking for love. But I recognized at a gut level that here was someone who was going to complete me as a human being,” he revealed.
“She’s kept me alive,” Trebek told People in an interview about his fight against cancer. “If it weren’t for Jean, I’d have put myself out of this a long time ago.”
“She’s a saint,” Trebek told “Good Morning America.” “She has so much goodness in her that she is always giving out, always putting out to help me get over difficult moments. And there have been some difficult moments. I’m just in awe of the way she handles it.”
‘You think we should go to commercial?’
Now for the dad jokes: Some of the best Trebek memories happened when he let loose some of that super dry, super sharp wit on his contestants; always lovingly, and never missing a beat.
There was that time he burned some contestants — who obviously weren’t sports fans — not once, not twice, but FOUR times in one segment:
“I can tell you guys are big football fans, yeah,” Trebek said. Then later after another question draws blank stares: “You think we should cut to commercial?” He keeps on teasing, saying, “Let’s look at the $1,000 clue, just for the fun of it.” Watch to the end of the clip to see his pitch-perfect delivery of the answer.
Or remember the time he called a contestant a loser to her face? Don’t worry, she had the last laugh and won her game in the end:
Susan Cole explained to Trebek that her favourite type of music was called “nerdcore hip hop.”
“It’s people who identify as nerdy, rapping about the things they love: video games, science fiction ... having a hard time meeting romantic partners,” she quipped during the 2016 game.
Trebek returned with a scathing zinger that has gone down in the annals of “Jeopardy” history, and maybe hasn’t aged so well to some, but there’s no denying it’s a masterclass in comedic timing.
‘I did not realize they were hashish brownies’
More legendary stuff: Trebek has a now-famous story of how he once mistakenly ate four or five brownies at a dinner party, not realizing they were brownies with a little extra. Relatable content, right?
“I love chocolate,” he told Mark Critch from CBC’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes.” “I had four or five of them. I did not realize they were hashish brownies.” He told Howard Stern in 2015: “The party was on a Friday night; I didn’t leave their home until Monday morning. No exaggeration!”
You can hear it from the horse’s mouth at around 1:01 in the video above. The whole clip is full of Trebek’s deadpan humour, which we’re going to go ahead and claim as a credit to his Canadian roots.
‘Genre. Genre. Genre. Genre ... Genre.’
Did you know Trebek is bilingual in English and French? Well, if you didn’t, you’ll certainly hear his lingual skills in action in this supercut that former “Jeopardy!” champion Alex Jacob knew the world needed, and we thank you, sir:
You may also be interested in Jacob’s supercut of Trebek saying “Dracula,” it’s also brilliant. He really loved saying “Dracula”!
He always knew how to dress for the moment
... Whether that moment called for ruffles and a bow-tie:
A snazzy sweater and waffle-woven slip-ons ...
Some rather large dice and a patterned tie ...
Or double-denim with bale-of-hay accessories ...
Trebek was a class act to the very end. And whether you preferred him moustache or no moustache, or with a beard, he will forever be the embodiment of our quest for knowledge, gently guiding — and chiding — us to victory.
“Even if you are learning facts that you are not going to be able to use in your daily life, it enriches you – the fact itself just enriches you as a human being and broadens your outlook on life and makes you a more understanding and better person.”
Thank you, Alex. What is ... a legacy well-earned? You answered it best.
With files from Samantha Beattie, Sima Shakeri, Maija Kappler and Kelsey Borresen.